How Integrated Voter Engagement Builds Power and Changes Policy (NCRP)

Written by: Kristee Paschall | Date: February 28, 2016

With a collective membership of more than one million families working through 54 local federations, PICO National Network is the nation’s largest network of faith-based community organizations. A growing majority of the communities we organize are predominantly communities of color, and our clergy and grassroots leaders have strong representation from African American, Latino, white, Asian Pacific Islander and other ethnic groups. As part of the larger social justice movement, PICO is bringing thousands of new people of faith into political life to make fundamental changes in our economy and society.

As Pastor Kenneth Sullivan of New Direction Church, a member of PICO’s IndyCAN, said:

“People are tired of this polarizing political climate. Inspired by Pope Francis’ call to end a ‘throwaway culture,’ we made a conscious choice to make [the 2014 midterm elections] about reaching out to those who feel most overlooked in our society and to working families typically ignored by partisan politics to say, ‘Your lives matter. Your vote matters.’”

PICO’S HISTORY OF INTEGRATED VOTER ENGAGEMENT

In 2012, PICO embraced Integrated Voter Engagement (IVE), a year-round program that connects voter engagement to issue-based organizing to build power, sustainability and impact over multiple election cycles. By contrast, traditional electoral programs are seasonal operations that leave no infrastructure behind.

To maximize both our impact and learning, we made a commitment in 2014 to launch a research program to study our voter engagement work.[i] Consistent with PICO’s DNA as a learning organization, our goal was to improve over time and contribute new knowledge to the field of IVE for both organizing and voter engagement. To support our research, we convened a team of experts from the Analyst Institute, Dr. Hahrie Han from University of California at Santa Barbara and Dr. Paul Speer from Vanderbilt University.

We believe the real return on investment for IVE programs extends far beyond election day. PICO’s research seeks to broaden the metrics our movement uses to assess voter mobilization programs and identify metrics that capture not only whether people turn out to vote, but also the extent to which they become full participants in our democracy. In other words: Does the way we invite people to participate in our democracy move them to reconsider their role in it? We aspire to measure:

  • The impact of organizing on voters’ and volunteers’ sense of agency and political efficacy.
  • Our collective capacity to organize across race, gender and other differences.
  • Our ability to translate the power built during elections into far-reaching policy change.

During the 2014 midterms, PICO led the largest nonpartisan volunteer-driven direct voter contact program in the country. While overall the midterms suffered from a low level of public interest, it marked a new chapter in PICO’s Let My People Vote (LMPV) program. LMPV is a hybrid of IVE, leadership development and issue-based organizing designed to empower thousands of volunteers to effect change in their communities.

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