A staff of a statewide network of adult education programs in many states across the country (Arizona, New Mexico, Missouri, Indiana, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire) serving tens of thousands of low-income adults taught their students the Right Question Voter Engagement Strategy. These adult learners, ranging in age from 18 to 60 came from adult diploma programs, adult literacy and GED classes located in local school district programs, nonprofit agencies, job training programs, and a women’s correctional center. What did these adult learners all have in common? They registered and voted for the first time in their lives.
In program after program, in state after state, adults who had never before voted began to discover the value of voting and the importance of not leaving it to others to make decisions for them. They had to overcome years of alienation and disengagement from the electoral process, feeling that voting was simply just not something they do or not worth doing. They expressed fears that provide insights about overlooked obstacles. They perceived voting as yet another encounter with a public agency where they could be penalized if they make a mistake or fill out the form incorrectly. Most significantly, their vast experiences with public systems seemed to reinforce one message: that they are not part of the decision-making process. As one woman in Concord, New Hampshire described it: “It’s at the welfare office that you realize you don’t have a voice.”
All that changed with access to the Right Question Strategy and training focused on voter engagement. The woman who talked about not having a voice came to see that “we do have a voice and we need to vote.” Another adult learner said that he realized after the training “that my opinion counts.” And, as another participant said, “if I don’t vote, then other people are going to keep on making decisions for me. This gives me a chance to have a say in who’s going to be making those decisions.”
An instructor of students who were incarcerated commented: “Everybody who could vote in my class, voted. Everybody who was allowed to be registered did it.” How many would have voted before? “Probably a third if that many. Very few were registered. I have some in their forties who have not been registered in their whole life… I probably got 20 people to vote that never voted in their lives… They told me they learned more in that one day than they’ve learned in weeks.”