Schools of social work can be effective catalysts for increasing voter turnout and political power in the communities and clients served by the profession.
Nationally, social workers touch 12 million people a day. They work with marginalized populations in all types of organizations, including state agencies, schools, health centers and nonprofit organizations.
Social workers, students, agencies and communities benefit from training. Voter education should include why voting matters to social work’s goals, community well-being, a just society and even their own self-interest. Content on the struggle for the franchise, laws such as felony disenfranchisement that are racist in their intent and impact, the negative consequences of low voter turnout on marginalized communities, and current efforts to roll back rights and access challenge the dominant narratives that voting doesn’t matter and/or is outside the scope and mission of social service delivery. In census years, anyone who works with or lives in underserved communities must understand the importance of the census to representation and services, address fears and myths and know how to encourage 100% participation.
Supporting people and communities to vote and be counted is part of empowerment practice, which values communities’ own power and voice to effect change. In addition, particularly in these hyper-partisan times, agency staff and leaders need to know the clear difference between partisan politics and allowable nonpartisan activities in nonprofit organizations and government agencies, including when they may be mandated by law to provide voter registration opportunities by the 1993 National Voter Registration Act.
The Campaign supports student and field-driven changes in practice.
Below are ideas and resources to get your school started!
- Share our fact sheets with faculty, agencies and students: Social Work Education's Role in Voter Turnout and Agencies Role in Voter Turnout
- Add content on the importance of voting to your class. We have a sample presentation you can use in your class, field instructor training, professional development and meetings: Voting is Social Work presentation
- Nonpartisan voter activities tie to all nine CSWE competencies and can build macro/policy skills in micro placements. Field directors and faculty can share this sheet of Example Practice Activities for Voter Engagement along with this Sample letter to Field Agencies about your school's voter engagement initiative.
- Think through how to integrate nonpartisan voter engagement into social work practice and your school's culture by using this voter engagement worksheet for organizations
- Most people don't know who represents them at all levels of government. This simple worksheet (Know Your Elected Officials) can be used in classrooms or workshops to build awareness of the three levels of government, how to contact elected officials and find local resources.
- Know the difference between partisan activities and nonpartisan voter engagement. Nonpartisan voter activities by social workers, nonprofit organizations and most government agencies is legal, ethical and professional. Know the facts: Nonprofit Vote’s 501(c)(3) Fact Sheet.
- Build students' civic IQ, confidence and political efficacy by giving them opportunities to apply what they learn! Get ideas from our Sample assignments for class and field education and having them complete the Voting in your state worksheet to learn more about the rules and deadlines that apply.
- Share student student success. Twenty Ways to Make Voting Matter! lists examples students provided from an urban school of social work for a policy assignment about their agencies' practices related to voter engagement.
The Humphreys Institute has developed an evidence-based model for integrating nonpartisan voter education into classroom and field education for schools of social work. For more information, contact Tanya Rhodes Smith.