America’s two major political parties don’t agree on much these days, but politicians on both sides of the aisle still parrot the conventional wisdom that the youth vote is unreliable.
And, unlike lots of political rhetoric today, the observation is grounded in reality: In the 2016 presidential election, citizens over 65 reported a turnout of 70.9%, far surpassing the 46.1% figure notched by the 18- to 29-year-old demographic, according to U.S. Census data.
Enter #iVoted, the nonpartisan voter turnout organization that burst onto the scene in 2018 with a simple model: voters get entry to a rad concert that night.
“The turnout numbers amongst young people are just awful,” says #iVoted founder Emily White. “Can we make it more interesting to you by tying a concert to it?”
In 2018, the answer was a resounding “yes.” In its first cycle of operation, #iVoted activated more than 150 venues across 37 states, admitting fans to Election Night 2018 concerts by the likes of Drive-By Truckers and Good Charlotte – provided those concertgoers showed selfies they’d taken at their polling places earlier that day.
White, a music industry vet who hails from Milwaukee, was spurred into action when she watched 2016 results come in from her native Wisconsin, where the presidential election was decided by less than 23,000 votes.
“That’s an arena,” she remembers thinking, rattling off similarly small margins from states like Michigan.
#iVoted’s nonpartisan status helped drive artist participation.
“Whatever the artists want to do or say is totally on them,” White says. “A lot of them don’t want to be public with their beliefs. They just want to get fans excited about voting, thinking about voting, making it a celebration.”
Of course, fans won’t be celebrating in venues of any size this Election Night due to the coronavirus. Like so much else, the pandemic has fundamentally reshaped voting in America – not just casting ballots, but the mass gatherings that accompany campaigns – forcing #iVoted to respond by pivoting from physical 2020 plans to a digital model.
#iVoted has met the challenge with gusto, recruiting 450 acts and counting to participate in a sprawling, record-setting webcast on November 3. Artists including Living Colour, Drive-By Truckers, The Dresden Dolls, Jukebox the Ghost, and The Polyphonic Spree have already signed on; popular jamgrass band Greensky Bluegrass added its name to the list on Friday.
Fans can earn access to the stream by RSVPing with selfies from home with mail-in ballots or outside polling places. And, because White explains that #iVoted also wants to engage future voters, the organization will also allow minors to gain entry by submitting videos sharing when they’ll be of voting age and why they’re excited to participate in the political process.
To maximize its clout, #iVoted partnered with Chartmetric, which has helped the organization parse streaming data from key swing states to identify regionally popular artists, informing who #iVoted asked to participate in its Election Night stream.
All the while, a formidable board including Walk The Moon’s Kevin Ray, APA’s Steve Ferguson, Lyte’s Lawrence Peryer, analytics expert Talia Borodin, 46 for 46 founder Kyle Frenette, ImagineMKE’s Kennita Hickman and WNYC’s Rebecca Kennedy has continued to steer and hone #iVoted’s mission.
“Although it’s under really awful circumstances, #iVoted is shaping up to the the largest music ‘festival’ of the year, and one of the largest single-night digital concerts in history – all in support of voter turnout,” White says.
In fact, going digital in 2020 will likely have lasting positive implications for #iVoted.
“In 2018, there were two pretty massive acts that really wanted to do #iVoted, but they were touring in Europe,” White says. “For 2022, obviously my heart is with venues and that’s at the core of what we do, but now we will have that webcast option if an artist is in Australia, if they’re touring abroad and want to participate in #iVoted. It’s completely expanded our reach.”
Before introducing going digital, there was necessarily a maximum number of artists #iVoted could team with, White says, but now “there’s really no limit. Any artist that wants to get involved and activate their fans to get excited about voting, we can make it happen.”
And while Americans of all stripes have posited the 2020 presidential election as the most consequential in a generation – if not in the country’s history – White envisions a future for #iVoted well beyond November. The proposition seems easy, considering the energy artists and fans alike, not to mention #iVoted, bring to the table.
“These artists are really passionate about voting and about this election,” White says. “We’re hoping that has impact on voter turnout – and we’re also hoping that these artists and fans care in 2022 and 2024, and keep caring.”