London, ON, September 8, 2022 [updated October 11] – In the wake of dwindling voter turnout in recent elections and our commitment to strengthening democratic institutions, Pillar Nonprofit Network has launched an effort meant to encourage people who rarely or never vote to cast ballots in the upcoming municipal election, October 24.
Called Project 51 London, the initiative’s long-term goal is to increase municipal voter turnout in London municipal elections to greater than 50%, though project lead Paul Seale says, “that’s definitely an aspirational goal that we’ll be chasing over a few election cycles,” noting voting turnout of only 39% in 2018, and 43% in 2014. But the thing that’s driving the effort, he says, is that it’s mostly the same people. “There’s evidence that the leading predictor of future voting behaviour is that your parents took you to the polls. Which means voting behaviour is intergenerational and systemic. That is, the same people are choosing our decision-makers and policy makers, election after election. We’d like to disrupt that model of inclusion and exclusion by introducing another moment to begin what we’re calling a ‘voting habit.’”
The project uses election readiness toolkits and training prepared by another program devoted to strengthening democracy. "Democracy's promise is that we all have an opportunity to shape the future we want by electing leaders to represent us,” says John Beebe of the Democratic Engagement Exchange in the Faculty of Arts at Toronto Metropolitan University. “We’re committed to helping fulfill this promise by providing tools and resources to trusted community organizations and local leaders who share our goal of creating a vibrant and inclusive democracy."
Project 51 London encourages local community organizations to mount voter pop-ups – election station simulations – for their own clients, residents, or communities, and also recruits volunteers to help coach those organizations that are unable to attend training sessions themselves. “Nonprofits are telling us that they’re busier than ever,” Seale says, “serving more people than ever with fewer resources. When we piloted this model during the provincial election campaign, we had more participation when we were able to ‘train the trainer’ and offer coaching to nonprofits at their own convenience.”
One of the organizations to participate in the leadup to the provincial election was the Crouch Neighbourhood Resource Centre. Executive Director Jennifer Martino says, “The voter pop-up allowed community members to ask questions about voting and to practise casting a ballot. Many residents shared that they had never voted and were not sure how to do so.”
The Voter Pop-Ups give organizations the opportunity to distribute information about how to vote, but they also encourage voting by helping people to connect voting to the issues they care most about. "A healthy democracy relies on a culture of civic engagement,” Beebe explains. “We build a culture of engagement by asking community members what they care about and then connecting their aspirations and concerns to the democratic institutions. In this way we drive democratic engagement from the ground up."
According to Martino, the approach works. “By integrating the voter pop-up into our hot meal program, the Crouch team was able to hear from residents about the community issues that are most important to them while encouraging neighbours to shape our community through their votes.” The centre mounted a voter pop-up again for the municipal election during its Hamilton Road Harvest Fest event October 8.
Pillar demonstrated a voter pop-up at a launch event at Innovation Works, Wednesday, September 14 to recruit community volunteers and is still seeking community organzations to run voter pop-ups and Londoners interested in volunteering to coach them. Individuals can learn more about volunteering for Project 51 London here and both community organizations and volunteers can take training on-demand here. To learn more, or for media enquries, email email@example.com.