Rock the Vote Amps Up Voter Registration Through Partners

Rock the Vote began providing its voter registration capabilities to partners earlier this year in a push to register 1 million voters by the November presidential election.

The effort by the youth-focused nonprofit builds on the estimated 300,000 voter registrations it has generated since it started offering voter registration tools on its Web site more than a year ago.

Rock the Vote was formed in 1990 to combat the threat of censorship in the recording industry by engaging its core audience of 18- to 30-year-olds in the political process.

Though the organization has had a Web site almost since its inception, it did not have voter registration tools on its site, instead registering voters mainly at live events such as concerts. That changed in March 2003 when Rock the Vote hired Carol/Trevelyan Strategy Group to provide the technology to offer voter registration on its site.

“We selected CTSG to build capabilities to do online voter registration in a fun and cool way,” said Michael Evans, chief operating officer at Rock the Vote, Los Angeles. “While there were a number of applications out there that would have let you do it, they were mostly very governmental and bureaucratic looking. We wanted to put a hip, cool spin on it with music in the background. Having a tool available at the click of a mouse is critical in our efforts to register young people.”

The other thing that CTSG offered Rock the Vote was a more sophisticated back-end relationship management tool.

“Rock the Vote's previous site had a relatively simple back end,” said Dan Carol, founding partner of Carol/Trevelyan Strategy Group, a division of application service provider Kintera Inc., San Diego. CTSG has offices in Washington, San Francisco and Eugene, OR.

“With our system, they're able to develop more detailed profiles of members and activists with their permission,” he said.

The relationship management feature is crucial to the voter registration process because it cannot be completed entirely online. Forms must be printed out, signed and mailed to the registrant's local board of elections. Rock the Vote collects e-mail addresses during the process and follows up to ensure registrations were mailed.

“Ultimately they have to send in the piece of paper, but after they do what can be done online, Rock the Vote can communicate with them to say, 'Yo, did you send in what you need to?'” Carol said.

Voter rolls are public, so Rock the Vote did initial testing to determine whether its online registrants were printing and mailing their completed forms.

“From our initial test in San Francisco, the majority of people do follow through and mail in the registration form,” Evans said. “We will be doing some extensive analysis after the election.”

The partner version of the voter registration tool also was developed by CTSG as a free service from Rock the Vote to enable other organizations and individuals to promote voter registration.

“Co-branded partnerships are a way to grow their audience and reach more potential voters,” Carol said.

The partner version of the tool was soft launched in May and rolled out in June. It lets any group or person link to the Rock the Vote registration tool.

“It appears as a pop-up, so the person never has to leave the Web page they are visiting,” Evans said.

Since launching the program, which can be found under the “partners rock!” heading on the group's Web site, about 20 percent of the online voter registration volume has come through partners, he said. Sites that have partnered with Rock the Vote include those of musical artists P. Diddy, Beastie Boys, Foo Fighters and Maroon 5.

An average of 2,000 to 3,000 voter registrations are initiated daily. Volume continues to rise as the election gets nearer.

“We'll get to a million by the time the election rolls around,” Evans said.

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