HeadCount’s Best Year Ever

Not too long ago, it looked like it would be a very tough year for anyone trying to encourage political participation. People were turned off by the system as a whole. Many believed that voter enthusiasm had peaked in 2008, and Americans - especially young Americans - were just tuning out.

Now, we are proud to announce that 2012 was HeadCount’s best year ever. We registered 103,340 Americans. The total for the two-year election cycle was 111,832.
HeadCount staged voter registration drives at 1,170 events, mostly concerts. We also registered more voters online than MTV or any of the other 20,000 partners of Rock the Vote.

How’d we do it? Well, we can trace it all to two very special groups of people - our volunteers and partner musicians. We fielded street teams in more than 70 cities, and grew our roster of affiliated artists to over 100. Whenever a partner artist played a city where we have a team, we showed up and registered voters.

The centerpiece for our year, though, was something new - National Voter Registration Day and the social media  “Clipboard Project” we staged on that day. More than 200 musicians and entertainers took photos holding our “Register to Vote” clipboards. John Legend, The Black Keys and 50 Cent were among the many musicians. Stephen Colbert, George Lopez and Sarah Silverman did it too. Then, on September 25th, they all tweeted their photos and posted them on Facebook, with a link to our online voter registration page. On that day, we also unleashed our street teams in over 30 cities. The result was about 40,000 registrations in a single day.

The momentum continued through Election Day, when dozens of these entertainers tweeted and posted links to HeadCount.org. Over 100,000 people visited our website in the month before the election for comprehensive voter information - everything from photo ID requirements to what’s on local ballots.
Our volunteers also generated thousands of phone calls to recent registrants in battleground states, part of the unique “Jam Cruise Calling” contest that offered a free trip on a cruise to one volunteer phone canvasser chosen at random (congrats to the winner, Jillian Wayman).

Meanwhile, we worked with some artists with massive Twitter followings to engage their fans during the early voting period. Pearl Jam, Jason Mraz, Rise Against, Jack Johnson and Dave Matthews Band invited their fans to tweet photos of themselves as they voted, and then the artists re-tweeted those photos. It made voting  a true “community activity,” in a way that only social media can.

Big Ideas. Big Results.

There were many other highlights to 2012. Things kicked into gear with “The Bridge Session” in March, when our board member Bob Weir teamed up with members of The National for a live concert webcast and political roundtable discussion on Yahoo! Music. Clips of The Bridge Session have been viewed over 2 million times.

In May, HeadCount volunteers set out on “The Great American Roadtrip,” going on the road to register voters with Dave Matthews Band, Wilco, Phish and Furthur.

We partnered with some of the best-known and most effective non-profits in the U.S. The NAACP joined us at Jay-Z’s Made in America Festival. We worked with Do Something! to register over 2,000 young voters and “pre-register” thousands more who were under 18 and signed up for an email reminder on their 18th birthdays. The Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) and REVERB both utilized our proprietary co-branded Facebook voter registration app. We helped the ONE Campaign organize its first campus-based voter registration campaign. Air Traffic Control, The Bus Federation, NYPIRG and Voto Latino all worked with us on National Voter Registration Day.

Throughout the year, media consistently took notice of our work. MTV profiled one of our volunteers in a 30 second commercial. Rolling Stone, USA Today, Buzzfeed and Pitchfork all devoted photo albums and coverage to our clipboard campaign. Sourcefed launched a viral video (125,000 views) about it that directly generated over 5,000 online registrations.

Overcoming Obstacles

Of course, our volunteers sometimes came face to face with young people who questioned the value of voting. On more than one occasion this year, an artist we’d worked with for years told us they’d decided to “stay out of politics.” Several major donors from previous years stopped funding youth civic engagement. But we consistently found a path to success. At Bonnaroo, we registered 1,100 voters, on par with the best events in our eight-year history. Friends from the music community such as the All Good and  Camp Bisco festivals, The Waterwheel Foundation (Phish), Rex Foundation (Grateful Dead family), Dave Matthews Band and Bassnectar kicked in with major financial contributions, as did The Ford Foundation, Cedar Tree Foundation, Rockefeller Family Fund, HKH Foundation, CrossCurrents Foundation and the Youth Engagement Fund. Corporate sponsors also pitched in. The Dave Matthews Band tour was sponsored by Volkswagen, which in turn received unprecedented exposure on DMB’s Facebook page, as the band highlighted voter registration and the partnership to its fans. On the Wilco tour, we partnered with Patagonia and the “Vote the Environment” campaign. Wilco frontman Jeff Tweedy became one of HeadCount’s most visible spokespersons, appearing in TV and online interviews about our work.

Another corporate partnership helped us build the election year to a crescendo, as Magic Hat Brewing Co. launched a major retail promotion around the election and sponsored the four-city “Participation Tour,” featuring an amalgam of HeadCount-affiliated artists. Days before the concert tour began, Hurricane Sandy hit the Northeast. We made the easy decision to turn the tour into a series of storm relief benefits, and raised close to $10,000 for City Harvest’s hurricane relief work. While the tour took on a whole new dimension, its message never changed. Participation means more than just voting. It means being an active citizen and contributing to your community. No matter what ways the political winds blow, that will always hold true.

Voting is the first step in participation, but definitely not the last. We look forward to taking the next steps in 2013 and beyond.