As the Nov. 3 election looms on the horizon, voter turnout is sweeping the country and reaching unprecedented numbers in Texas with 5.3 million people voting in the first two weeks of early voting.
Harris County has become ground zero for this early voting explosion, according to a USA Today Oct. 21 report. About 800,000 people voted in the first eight days of early voting. The Austin American Statesman recently reported that more people have cast ballots in Travis County than the total number of ballots cast in 2016.
But North Texas isn’t far behind, in part, due to the efforts of several initiatives that seek to educate voters before they head to the polls, including Collin County Votes by the Collin County Business Alliance and five local chambers from Allen, Frisco, McKinney, and Plano.
The initiatives are sorely needed. Nearly every race is contested in Collin County, and the number of voters has increased 20 percent due to population growth, which means not everyone may be familiar with the races on the ballot. Straight-ticket voting, known as “one punch option,” is also no longer an option this election season after a federal appeals court upheld the 2017 ruling abolishing it in late September.
“Collin County Votes has been very effective and successful in educating citizens on the relevant issues and the candidates,” Plano Mayor Harry LaRosiliere says. “It has served as a pathway for voters to obtain important information while becoming civically engaged. The program has been very successful in terms of voter participation.”
Collin County Votes kicked off about five years after the Collin County Business Alliance formed in 2011. Made up of several local chambers and businesses, they were searching for a way to bring Collin County together and focus on issues that transcended city lines such as water and education. Voter engagement in local elections fit this mission.
“We focused in on how can we get our community to vote in local elections,” says Monica Shortino from the Collin County Business Alliance.
They created the website collincountyvotes.com and began offering resources about local and statewide elections. They began uploading micro-videos of local candidates for school board, city council, and county commissioner to help inform voters and created a resource center with infographics such as “How to Pass a Bill in Texas,” “Public School Finance,” and a “Collin County Fact Sheet.” They also put together a corporate engagement tab to highlight the do’s and don’ts of promoting civic engagement at work:
- Keep employees informed on key voting dates & events
- Consider hosting a non-mandatory Election Day Party
- Post a voting calendar in your office
- Make endorsements of any candidate or political parties. Your role is to remain neutral when it comes to how your employees vote
- Host any candidates in your space or an event your company is sponsoring unless candidates from all major parties in that race were provided the same opportunity to attend
- Give out prizes, recognition or other incentives for voting.
They also kicked off a robust social media campaign using the hashtag #CollinCountyVotes and began sharing candidate and election information on their social media channels.
This year marks the first year that the Collin County Business Alliance has utilized Collin County Votes for a presidential election. They realized that the heightened social unrest due to policy brutality and COVID-19 pandemic has taken a toll on voters, especially the younger ones, a growing demographic in Collin County.
“The great thing about Collin County Votes is we were already online with a platform and strong engagement,” Shortino says. “We started early in the year.”
As part of their social justice efforts, the Collin County Business Alliance began hosting listening round tables with local leaders to discuss Black voter engagement. They partnered with the Collin County Black Chamber of Commerce, Plano North Metroplex (TX) Chapter of The Links, Inc. and 15 other business leaders and developed best practices, tools, and resources to boost voter turnout.
Paula Parker, president of Plano North Metroplex (TX) Chapter of The Links, says the partnership was a perfect fit. “We are committed to building alliances that foster important advocacy agendas that positively affect our communities in North Texas.”
Shortino pointed out that many of their partners have been doing candidate forums to get the word out. “One of the big pieces that I love is that our county has great leaders who are committed to voter engagement,” she says.
What they’re doing seems to be working. This is fourth year for Collin County Votes and so far they’ve been making a significant impact in voter turnout, increasing it 70 percent, according to numbers provided by the Collin County Business Alliance.
After COVID-19 hit earlier this year, they faced several challenges, including taking in-person events like voter registration online to reach voters in their homes and raising awareness on how to grow the candidate pipeline.
Pooja Singhania from the Collin County Business Alliance explains that one of the pillars that rose to the top from these listening round tables was engaging and increasing voter turnout in the Black community. They found several grassroots’ online voting initiatives similar to Collin County Votes that help educate voters in North Texas:
Vote411 is a “one-stop-shop” for election related information. Launched by the League of Women Voters Education Fund in October 2006, the website provides nonpartisan information to the public with both general and state-specific information on the election process, including absentee ballot information, factual data on candidates, and general information on such topics as how to watch debates with a critical eye.
For information visit Vote411
The Voting Information Project
A partnership of Democracy Works and the states, The Voting Information Project seeks to provide official information to voters about where to vote and what’s on their ballots. It ensures that voters have the official information they need to answer basic questions and makes election data available and accessible.
For information visit The Voting Information Project
Vote Mavs Take Action
The Dallas Mavericks have teamed up with the League of Women Voters Texas and MOVE Texas to offer information about candidates and polling locations. They are seeking to increase civic engagement and raise awareness to help hold DFW citizens accountable for their right to be heard in local and national elections.
For information visit Vote Mavs Take Action