Recalling an Experience of Student Voter Registration in New York City: 8,600 New Yorkers Registered in One Day
Bob Schachter, DSW, LMSW
Former Executive Director of NASW-NYC (1990 to 2016)
Back in 1996, in the months before the US Presidential election, I was hearing about schools of social work wanting to engage their students in voter registration. Curious about whether the schools were coordinating their efforts, I asked a member of my staff, a seasoned community organizer, to find out. She quickly discovered that there was no effort at coordination. Seeing a role for NASW, my staff member reached out to the New York Public Interest Research Group (NYPIRG) to learn how they set up tables on major thoroughfares in low income neighborhoods to do voter registration, and that NYPIRG was interested in having social work students work their tables. As a result, over 200 social work students were recruited from five schools for a one day voter registration drive in early October of that year, with a small number student activists in each school doing the recruiting.
By the end of that day, 8,600 New Yorkers had been registered to vote. NYPIRG reported that it was the most successful single day of voter registration that they had ever experienced. This approach was repeated in 2000, and although the number registered was lower, over 6,000 were registered to vote. While this experience may not be easily duplicated, I think it can serve as an inspiration for what social work students can do, and that a small number of activists can play a critical role.