The Western Museums Association is calling upon our member institutions and the greater museum field to engage with local communities by opening their doors to voter registration and civic engagement.
In an era of partisan divide that has been swept up by a global pandemic and protests fueled by anger at racial injustice, now is the time for museums to understand their position in civic engagement, and to assert themselves as vital sources of edification and accessible polling sites.
The U.S. Internal Revenue Service explicitly states that private 501(c)(3) nonprofits can advocate and participate in certain voter education or registration activities and expenditures if conducted in a non-partisan manner. For more details on what is allowed, please see the American Alliance of Museum's Guide to Election Year Advocacy.
Civic museums are typically and distinctively embedded within their communities and present an array of diverse collections that help to preserve the past, examine the present, and shape the future. Yet, regardless of the type of institution you are – art museum, science center, natural history museum, etc. – almost all of us have a mission intertwined with a civic obligation to serve our people.
As one of the most trusted sources of information, museums have the ability to educate people on the history of voting, and can help limit voter suppression efforts, increase voter registration, and inspire Americans to cast a ballot. By embracing our civic duty, museums have the potential to bridge the gap between state and community, government and governed. (Civic Museums Think Piece, blackradley.com)
So, what exactly can your museum do? Well, it’s as easy 1-2-3.
- Model Good Civic Leadership
- Become an incubation of innovative, actionable ideas that create long-term change and policy shifts.
- Demonstrate a commitment to analysis and consistently address pertinent questions around diversity, equity, accessibility, and inclusion. Become a meeting place for all people, communities, and sectors.
- Learn how to better engage students in racism and civic education through iCivics – a nonprofit whose mission is to ensure that every student in America receives a quality and engaging civic education and graduates from high school well prepared and enthusiastic for citizenship.
- Raise Awareness
- To best engage the people you serve and to help them participate in democracy, there are 10 things you can do from now until Election Day.
- Learn and train your staff in what to say about the upcoming election.
- Many of us already have websites, social media channels, and/or newsletters set in place that can be leveraged to distribute information, promote voting registration, and help combat voter suppression. Use these communication platforms to amplify the voices of your community and provide links to voter registration tools or registration events.
- Register for Nonprofit Vote's upcoming webinar on Digital Voter Engagement Tools During the COVID Pandemic, Tuesday, June 16.
- Become a Polling Place or Offer Voter Registration
- Inform prospective voters on how to register or update their registration information. Here is a great sample script on how to talk about voter registration.
- Obtain voter registration forms from your local election office and place them at your information desk.
- Statistics show that typically less than half of registered voters actually turn in their ballots. To help increase voter turnout provide a secured, private voting space for your visitors to fill the form out on-site and leave it with you to be turned in the following day.
For more resources on how your institution can become a trusted advocate for voter engagement, please visit NonprofitVote.org.
As centralized place-makers, museums have the inherent capability to help protect, promote, and practice the most fundamental constitutional right – the right to vote. Join us in this effort and help us to amplify the voices of our communities.
"As [nonpartisan] safe havens for people to gather to amplify their collective voices, nonprofits have a duty to stand up and speak out for the public good and promote a more diverse, inclusive, and equitable society." – National Council of Nonprofits