HeadCount at Ten: 2012, National Voter Registration Day

2012 started off just like any other year at HeadCount, with hundreds of volunteers in cities across the country registering people to vote at concerts and other events. As election season approached, a concerted effort was also made to expand into different music scenes--particularly hip-hop--and the group sent intern Laura Bedrick on the road with rapper J. Cole.

“One day [Headcount Executive Director] Andy Bernstein asked me if I wanted to represent HeadCount on the Reverb Campus Consciousness Tour with J.Cole and Big Krit. I wasn’t sure about it at first, but it ended up being a life-changing experience. I registered over 500 college students to vote, recruited a handful of new volunteers, and lived like a rock star on a tour bus.”

HeadCount also sent volunteers on the road that summer with Wilco, Dave Matthews Band, Phish and Furthur.

And the voter registration troops were at more festivals than in any previous year -- Hangout, Summer Camp, Bonnaroo, Electric Forest, Lollapalooza, All Good, Counter about-us1Point, High Sierra and more.

Things were looking pretty good, but there wasn’t anything that was going to blow the doors off the voter registration world, and that’s the standard HeadCount had set over the years.

“As summer rolled around, I knew that we had enough for one more thing,” recalls Bernstein. “But what would it be? How could we do something that would stand out and really make a splash.”

The epiphany came on July 6, right in the middle of Yankee Stadium. Bernstein was at Roger Waters’ massive The Wall concert and started thinking about the clipboards that HeadCount volunteers carry around at shows and festivals. The boards--with voter registration forms clipped on the front side and “”Register to Vote Here” decals plastered on the back--were more or less the unofficial symbol of HeadCount. Any time someone took a photo of a HeadCount volunteer, it was natural to hold up the clipboard.

Sarah Silverman RTVSo the idea was simple: ask as many musicians and celebrities as possible to take pictures holding up the clipboards too. The photos would then be shared via their social media outlets on the first ever National Voter Registration Day, a nationwide day of action HeadCount was helping plan for September 25th of that year.

The images would also be linked to an online voter registration platform that would allow thousands of people to fill out all the necessary paperwork from the comfort of their own homes.

Work on the project began almost immediately. Before long, plenty of musicians were heeding the call by posing with the clipboards.

The campaigned ballooned into HeadCount’s biggest online initiative ever.  It enlisted more stars than anyone ever imagined. Everyone from John Stewart and Stephen Colbert to John Legend and 50 Cent was a part of the program, which also featured notable artists and performers like The Black KeysWeird Al Yankovic, Trey Anastasio and Mike Gordon of Phish, Bonnie Raitt, Sarah Silverman, Tenacious D, Grizzly Bear, BB King, Kathy Griffin, Aziz Ansari and Bob Weir--just to name a few. Over 200 artists, actors and comedians contributed photos to the campaign.

Meanwhile, HeadCount volunteers “hit the streets” in over 30 cities for National Voter Registration Day.

By the time the sun set on September 25th, HeadCount had registered over 35,000 voters through National Voter Registration Day. The total for the year ended up being 111,000 – HeadCount’s highest total ever.

The clipboard campaign would end up continuing in 2014, and also inspire the #GoVote effort where musicians and celebrities made social media posts on Election Day.

"2012 is when we proved we could be as strong on social media as we are at concerts,” said Bernstein. “No one has ever run digital campaigns involving this many musicians and celebrities. It’s something unique to HeadCount.”