Volunteers Take “The Great American Roadtrip” Registering Voters

What’s more American than rock n’ roll and democracy? A few lucky young people are getting a healthy dose of both this summer, taking “The Great American Road Trip” to register voters at Dave Matthews Band, Wilco, Phish and Furthur concerts across the country.

Their trek, organized by HeadCount, will collectively cover over 15,000 miles and 103 concerts, and help tens of thousands of people register to vote.

A separate team of 2-4 volunteers is assigned to each band, traveling to nearly every concert on the respective tours. In each city, they’ll be joined by up to 10 local volunteers who will help register voters and then get to enjoy an evening of music. Anyone 18 years of age or older can sign up to volunteer at HeadCount.org. In all, over 1,000 people will participate in this nationwide voter registration campaign.

The HeadCount team will be traveling to each Dave Matthews Band show in a Volkswagen Routan minivan – and filing dispatches from the road on the HeadCount blog. Volkswagen of America, Inc. and Dave Matthews Band’s Bama Works Fund are covering all the volunteers’ travel costs.

HeadCount set an all-time record for a single concert tour when they registered 12,161 voters with Dave Matthews Band in 2004. That year, turnout by voters age 18 to 24 jumped 11 percent. It was by far the largest increase among any age group. In 2008 that trend continued, with young voters being the only age group to show an increase in turnout.

However, it will take some work if that trend is to continue. A recent Wall Street Journal poll found that only 43 percent of young voters said they were very interested in the Presidential election, compared to 65 percent in a poll taken at the same time of year in 2008. Another poll by Gallup said that only 56 percent of registered voters under the age of 30 plan to cast their ballot in November.

One of the best ways to increase voter turnout is by welcoming new voters into the democratic process. In 2008, over 72 percent of the voters registered by HeadCount turned out to vote, according to an independent study by the Washington, D.C.-based New Organizing Institute. That same study said that over 4 million votes were cast that year by individuals who registered to vote through independent groups like HeadCount.

In addition to registering voters, HeadCount works with musicians to help make the election more culturally relevant. Furthur’s Bob Weir – a member of HeadCount’s board of directors and a founding member of The Grateful Dead – recently performed a free webcast on Yahoo! Music that included a roundtable political discussion between sets of music. He was joined by members of the Brooklyn, NY-based band The National, another artist that has encouraged its fans to be politically active.

Social media also represents a burgeoning opportunity to engage young people around voting and issues that are important to them. HeadCount just launched a specialized Facebook “app” that allows any user to complete a voter registration application online.