Early voters in Houston didn’t have to wait for an awards show to walk the red carpet in 2020: They strolled down one to cast their ballot as part of the first annual Vote Early Day celebration. What creative ways will people find to celebrate Vote Early Day on October 28, 2022? Circus performers juggling and stilt walking? A horseback caravan to the polls? It’s all been done. As Bryce Bennett, project director for Vote Early Day, says, “creativity is part of the fun.” While the goal is to make it easier for Americans to learn about their options to vote early, it’s also a day of celebration.
“We want this to be a fun, inviting, and engaging experience that breaks through the noise,” Bennett says. “By the time we get to October 28, a lot of the campaigning is going to be very heated and negative. We want people to create events that are very intentional — fun and exciting — that will be inviting to people and really lower the barrier for entry to [participating in] our democracy.”
Founded in 2020 by MTV, Vote Early Day was conceived as a civic holiday focused on ensuring that everyone knew how and where to vote early. It’s also a day that many of those who can, do vote. In 2020, more than 3 million voters cast their ballots on the first Vote Early Day. The organization has spun off to become a movement of media companies, transport companies, nonprofits, election administrative peers, and creatives, as Bennett describes them, all working to ensure that all Americans have the ability to cast their ballot ahead of Election Day.
Why is early voting so important? Quite simply, it expands access to the democratic process. During the 2020 election, 69 percent of voters nationwide cast their ballot by mail or before Election Day, according to U.S. Census information. And studies and data have shown that early voting and weekend voting expands access for Black Americans, particularly in the South, and is favored both by Latinos and Asian Americans. Efforts to discourage early voting serve no particular political party. Research shows that a package of options that makes it easier to vote benefits neither Democrats or Republicans. Rather, it benefits democracy by making it a fuller representation of the country. As Bennett noted, “voter disinformation, constantly changing election laws are all the things that stopped people from having a chance to share their voice in our democracy. When people vote early, they can get over those barriers, they can overcome them, but when they wait until the last minute, sometimes they don’t.”
As much as Vote Early Day is an annual celebration, it’s also about information and practical assistance. Transportation companies provide rides, social media companies facilitate linkages and much more: “We recruit sports teams and social media platforms and fashion brands and food banks — people who you wouldn’t traditionally think about as being involved in the political process — to make sure that no matter who you are, where you come from, or how you are casting your ballot, you get that reminder and you get the tools to vote early,” Bennett says. In addition to on-the-ground community outreach providing information, voters can visit the Vote Early Day website to learn how to vote early in their state. Currently, every state except five (Connecticut, Mississippi, Missouri, New Hampshire, and South Carolina) provides some sort of opportunity to vote early for general voters.
And, importantly, Vote Early Day has increased voter turnout at the local level. In 2021, its second year, Bennett notes that even after the bright spotlight of the presidential election had faded, Vote Early Day provided critical public education about the importance of local elections, thanks in part to the organization’s nationwide reach. In addition to national partners, Vote Early Day has local partners in every state, as well as the District of Columbia. While two states, New Jersey and Virginia, had statewide gubernatorial elections, for the mayor’s races, city council, county commission, and other local races, Vote Early Day “leaned in,” Bennett said, “to really help people understand that those local races are critically important, and in many ways that are going to affect people’s day-to-day lives, even more than what happens at the national level.”
While America’s turbulent history behind access to voting is a sobering one, and the act of voting is serious and significant, Vote Early Day is a joyful and inclusive celebration of democracy. It’s about doing, Bennett says, “Everything we can to lower the barrier for entry to our democracy, to make sure that more people feel welcomed to participate in it and eager to cast their ballot because of it. We would love for other friends at Tides to join as partners in this work. It’s so important to us to have this unifying day of action be a chance to amplify the work that so many amazing organizations are already doing.”
Tides Center is proud to serve as a fiscal sponsor for Vote Early Day, which supports civic engagement at the national and local level. Follow @voteearlyday on Twitter to learn more about local celebrations near you on October 28, 2022.