HeadCount, Dave Matthews Band join up to register voters
When Doug Griffith helped one man register to vote at the Dave Matthews Band concert Wednesday night, the concert-goer was so excited he asked to have his picture taken with Griffith.
Griffith was part of a group canvasing for HeadCount, a nonpartisan organization that works with musicians to register voters. HeadCount volunteers canvass at concerts and music festivals throughout the year, following partner bands to nearly every stop along on their tours.
This summer, teams of volunteers are registering voters at concerts by the Dave Matthews Band, Wilco, Phish and Furthur. The team that stopped at the Verizon Wireless Amphitheater was made up of traveling and local volunteers. Some have been traveling with DMB since the end of June.
Chelsey Tillman, a touring team leader for the organization, said she became interested in HeadCount last year after the group visited her school, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. “I was interested in the organization because I was a political science major. I like that they want to increase political consciousness among people my age,” she said.
Midwest Regional Coordinator Shane Turnage was out registering with the team as well. He said HeadCount will register anyone but often focuses on 18 to 24-year-olds.
"We're here to provide the service to everyone, but let's just be honest, that's the least registered group," he said. "A lot of the youth audience here is our target audience, but we're here to provide the service to everyone."
While many concert-goers said they were already registered, others seemed excited to get the chance to exercise their right to vote.
Sisters Brooke and Danyel Nokes both stopped at the HeadCount booth to register. Brooke Nokes, who graduated from high school this spring, said she wanted to “have an opinion about who our president is.”
HeadCount is “important because there are a lot of younger kids out here and when I’m at home I don’t think about it, but seeing it here made me want to register,” she said.
In addition to new voters, many individuals who recently moved into the area were eager to register.
“I liked that they made it easy, you can go on their website to find your polling place because that can be hard to figure out,” Rachel Aitkens said. “Youth are generally underrepresented in voting and throughout politics, so it’s really important to get out at events like these and make it really accessible.”
The low participation rate among young voters is the reason for HeadCount’s work. A recent Wall Street Journal poll found that 43 percent of young voters are interested in the presidential election, and a Gallup poll this year said that only 56 percent of registered voters under the age of 30 plan to cast their ballot in November, according to a HeadCount press release.
HeadCount volunteers have been particularly successful registering voters at Dave Mathews Band's concerts. Out of 200,000 registered since 2004, a quarter of them have come from DMB shows. Philadelphia team leader Abby Brazina, who is traveling with DMB, said Matthews' and other artists' involvement creates a kind of music community.
"We're here because Dave wants to make sure that all of his fans are registered to vote," she said. "So knowing that, people become more receptive to it and it builds sense of community. You're doing something that the band wants you to do and that the band supports. You're supporting something that they support, so it builds that sense of music community."
Even for those already interested in the election, HeadCount provides them with an easy way to get registered.
“I’ve done it [registered] before and I never got the card, so I really wanted to do it,” Charles Reagan said. “They’re here and everyone’s just walking by and it takes two seconds. It’s awesome.”
Brazina said HeadCount works to make registering as painless as possible.
"We help the people that might not have that last little bit of motivation they need to do it themselves," she said. "People are just hanging out on the lawn not doing anything, it's the perfect opportunity to register to vote. You've got a beer in one hand and a registration form in the other."
HeadCount hopes to restart its program in St. Louis. After the previous St. Louis team leader moved away, St. Louis "fell off the map for a while," incoming St. Louis team leader Doug Griffith said. Griffith will be heading St. Louis' revamp.
HeadCount "has been very active in St. Louis for a long time," he said. "We have a very strong base."
Having discovered HeadCount at a Coney Island Furthur show a few years ago, Griffith and the rest of the volunteers hope to recruit fans in the same way. Brazina invited concert-goers not only to register to vote, but to sign up to volunteer at HeadCount's website.
As a history and civics teacher, Brazina was drawn to volunteering, but she said the opportunity to go to shows was what sealed the deal for her.
"I saw I could go to a Pearl Jam show and it was like, 'Yes, please!'" she said.
The experience of volunteering at a concert also appealed to local volunteers Lucinda Lichty and John Clark. Having just moved to the area, Lichty said she was looking for a way to meet people, while doing something worthwhile.
"It's important to vote and my boyfriend's really into politics and so that kind of helped, too," she said. "It's good to get out and meet people, and I haven't been to a lot of concerts. I think the partnership of the concerts and the artists is pretty ideal."
At the end of the night, HeadCount had registered about 133 voters.
"The goal was 115," Turnage said. "So we shattered it."