Image courtesy of the Catholic Charities of The Diocese Of Pittsburgh.

While voting is a right of every U.S. citizen, the process isn’t easy for those faced with strict registration deadlines, voter ID laws and limited access to polling places. That’s why the Greater Pittsburgh Nonprofit Partnership (GPNP), a part of The Forbes Funds, is committed to getting everyone to the polls this election season.

The GPNP, a coalition of over 420 nonprofits and community partners from a 12-county region in southwestern PA, assembled 17 cohorts to participate in the nonpartisan Nonprofit Vote voter engagement program. The cohorts, which include area nonprofits such as Just Harvest and the Wilkinsburg Family Support Center and Office of Child Development, are tasked with getting at least 4,250 of their clients—250 per cohort—to vote.

To reach that goal, the program will host a variety of activities over the coming weeks to register voters before the state cut-off date of October 11 and to generate enthusiasm for the November primaries.

Image courtesy of the Wilkinsburg Family Support Center.

Officially launched last July, the voter engagement program was created after a study by the group Nonprofit VOTE showed that the disadvantaged communities served by nonprofits—mainly human service or community development organizations focused on disenfranchised populations who struggle to meet basic needs like food, clothing and shelter—often produce a low voter turnout.

GPNP executive director Samantha Balbier says the program was also a response to the lack of urgency related to the recent nine-month long state budget impasse.

“We noticed that the general public, by and large, was not outraged by the fact that there was no state budget for so long despite the fact that there was a constitutional deadline that was ignored,” says Balbier. “Reflecting on that whole process we asked ourselves, what could we get better at as a nonprofit association?”

The GPNP recognized an opportunity to increase civic engagement among those directly affected by the budget impasse, which prevented essential funding from reaching nonprofits.

Balbier believes that getting nonprofits involved in voter outreach could prove more effective than other public programs.

“We are using a model that puts nonprofits at the center based on the idea that they have established relationships with their constituents and are able to more effectively engage and register new voters,” she says. She cites the trust factor that would be missing if someone was approached by a canvasser on the street.

Just Harvest volunteer Julie Dryer (right) registers voters at a CCAC event. Image courtesy of Just Harvest.

The program educates members from each cohort on correct voting procedures and voter registration. The organizations then reach out to those they serve and provide information on issues such as what materials are required to vote and how to locate polling places. It will also cover more specific areas, including the rights of voters with disabilities, and will work to dispel voting myths, such as the belief that ex-convicts do not have the right to vote.

“We’re trying to look at all the hurdles that get in the way of people voting, especially for the first time,” says John Lydon, CEO of the McKeesport-based cohort Auberle.

Lydon, who also serves as the chair of the GPNP advisory team, says Auberle will host voting advocacy activities at all the organization’s facilities, including the 412 Youth Zone located in Downtown Pittsburgh. The center provides services to young adults who have aged out of the foster care system and are between the ages of 16 and 24, a key focus demographic for voter registration.

“A high percentage of youth at the 412 Youth Zone are eligible to vote, but a lot of them are not registered,” says Lydon.

He says Auberle will also provide transportation to voters in areas with limited access to polls, and host a post-election day celebration breakfast for clients who bring their voting stubs.

The GPNP Nonprofit Vote voter engagement program will register voters throughout the region on Tuesday, September 27 for National Voter Registration Day. Find a voter registration event near you by entering your area code in the search bar on the National Voter Registration Events page.

For a full list of GPNP participating cohorts and other voting information, visit the GPNP website.

Amanda Waltz

Amanda Waltz is a freelance journalist and film critic whose work has appeared locally in numerous publications. She writes for The Film Stage and is the founder and editor of Steel Cinema, a blog dedicated...