Voter intimidation is nothing new, but people have been hearing President Trump’s false allegations of widespread voter fraud — often laced with racially coded language connecting voter fraud to urban and immigrant communities — since his 2016 campaign. The launch of the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity in May 2017 escalated Trump’s attack on voting rights, sending shock waves through communities of color and prompting voters to deregister in droves.
The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund (LDF) took immediate action, filing a lawsuit in federal court and — with Spitfire’s help — launching an education campaign to inform people of their voting rights and discourage them from deregistering. These efforts contributed to the chorus of public opposition that led to the Commission’s swift demise.
Here are five lessons learned from our collaboration on the Reclaim Your Vote campaign that you can apply to any initiative.
1. Be clear on the mission.
LDF wanted to give voters tools and information to empower them to register to vote and stay registered — and the Reclaim Your Vote website does exactly that. The site provides plenty of informational resources, as well as direct links to bilingual voter registration tools that visitors can use to register for the first time or confirm their current registration.
2. Get personal.
Everyone at Spitfire is committed to improving the lives of marginalized communities, including people of color and immigrants. For some of us, that commitment is personal. My Afro-Latina heritage gives me a unique perspective on issues like this. Although you don’t have to share someone’s heritage to advocate for them, an authentic connection to the issue can be valuable.
3. Know your audience.
We didn’t want this to be just another get-out-the-vote campaign, because this time, everything was different.
To determine the best way to reach impacted voters, Spitfire listened to the stories coming from communities of color who had experienced voter intimidation, injustice or discrimination at the polls. The team also listened to the stories of people who’ve had the courage to stand up for their rights and not let their voices be silenced. Through these stories, Spitfire developed an understanding of the barriers, including fears, that were preventing people from registering or staying registered and developed messaging that spoke to the core values of the people LDF wanted to reach.
Working with LDF, Spitfire drew on the history and strength of the Black community to develop the campaign’s prevailing theme: Do not let this regime scare you. Everyone has the right to vote and this is no time to be afraid.
4. Deploy your message strategically.
To communicate this message, LDF and Spitfire chose photos to reflect the spectrum of people most likely to experience voter intimidation — particularly Black and Latino communities as well as older adults — so audiences could see themselves reflected, and messaging could resonate more deeply. The photos were accompanied by empowering messages urging voters to stand strong and defend their own right to vote by registering and staying registered.
The messages are prominently displayed on the Reclaim Your Vote website and were disseminated widely across social media. Spitfire also reached out to the traditional media, where the campaign earned coverage in Newsweek, among other publications.
5. Get the word out.
As part of getting the word out about Reclaim Your Vote, in October 2017 LDF joined forces with Voto Latino for a tweet storm to help strengthen ties between Black and Latino communities. Especially at a time when efforts to drive a wedge between the two communities are more prevalent than ever, this unity is essential. The tweet storm symbolized the kind of change necessary to confront voter intimidation tactics. By partnering on the tweet storm, the organizations demonstrated how groups that haven’t necessarily worked together in the past can unite for their mutual benefit. LDF’s message carried far and wide, contributing to the mounting public pressure that helped put an end to the Commission, a move announced in January 2018.
In the Trump era, it’s likely that voter suppression tactics will still intensify. As LDF continues to protect the essential democratic right to vote, Spitfire will stand alongside them and our communities.