Historic. Challenging. Chaotic. Surreal.
Those are just some of the many words that can be used to describe 2020. In a year that required adaptability and patience for almost every aspect of life, one thing that stood out was that over 158,000,000 Americans voted in the 2020 presidential election.
That’s almost two-thirds of all eligible voters casting their ballots, the highest since 1900. Americans showed up this year, and while that is absolutely worth celebrating on its own, we cannot ignore the impact volunteers had on voter turnout.
In the months leading up to the November election, volunteers all over the country dedicated their time to calling and texting potential voters, encouraging them to make a plan and vote. The Environmental Voter Project alone had over 3,000 volunteers contacting non-voting environtalists last fall. Using text and phone banking programs, EVP volunteers spent hours of their time encouraging environmentalists to vote in the upcoming election.
To give you a sense of the dedication these volunteers have: Rita Englum, one of EVP’s star volunteers, spent 153 hours calling non-voting environmentalists last year. She finished the year having 4,841 actual conversations with voters.
She started her journey as an EVP volunteer after hearing Founder and Executive Director, Nathaniel Stinnett, present on a monthly Citizens’ Climate Lobby webinar. She thought EVP’s mission of combining voting turnout with environmental prioritization was perfect.
“I’ve always been interested in climate activism and I’ve volunteered with political campaigns before, but when I heard about EVP I thought I just had to be a part of it. This intersection of saving democracy and expanding voting rights and the environment is a perfect combination. And it’s based on data driven research. It’s not just a random idea,” she said.
As a non-partisan organization, EVP uses data analytics to identify non-voting environmentalists across 12 states and then uses behavior science-tested messaging to turn them into more consistent voters. The goal is to get them to turn out in every election - local, state, and federal - and eventually, turn them into “super-voters.”
Environmentalists historically have low voter turnout rates, even though climate change continues to rise as a voter priority. EVP focuses on getting people who rank climate change as their top priority to vote - period. They change voters’ behaviors, not their opinions.
None of which can happen without an army of volunteers willing to put in the work. In such an election-heavy year like 2020, thousands of volunteers were needed to contact people across the 12 states that EVP focuses on. But these volunteers are needed during not-so-widely-known election years too.
“Part of this is understanding that the mission is about changing habits and you can’t do that on just the big election years. It’s an ongoing process,” said Rita. “I originally committed myself to volunteering just through the general election. I said I would do four hours a week until then. And then, of course I stayed through the run-offs. And now, I’m still here and helping to call voters about local elections, because it’s important and it’s necessary.”
Not only does the mission keep volunteers like Rita motivated to continue, but the interactions with the voters they contact can keep that engine running.
“Phone banking can be really draining sometimes. You can get people who don’t care to listen or talk to you. But it’s really heartening when you get people who thank you for the work you’re doing or who say something like ‘oh, I didn’t know that election was coming up’ or ‘I’m so glad you called, I had forgotten to send my ballot by mail’. That’s what this is all about. It’s like a little shock of adrenaline and a reminder that I can keep going. Getting a call like that, even if it’s every once in a while, it’s what keeps me going.”
When asked what EVP state she’d most like to visit and why, Rita had an answer that we’d bet many would agree with:
“I want to go to Georgia and meet Stacey Abrams. She’s my idol for organizing.”
Organizations like EVP couldn’t do what they do without the help and dedication of volunteers like Rita. When people come together and work towards a greater goal, they have the power to enact real and impactful change.
For more information on how to volunteer with EVP, visit EVP’s Get Involved page.