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Voters Not Politicians mobilizes to end gerrymandering in Michigan

A volunteer-led, nonpartisan organization rallied an army of supporters and put an initiative on the Michigan statewide ballot to establish an Independent Citizens’ Redistricting Commission.

By Jane St. John

metrics

  • 110
  • days
  • 3.8K
  • trained circulators
  • 425K
  • petition signatures

On a rainy day in December 2017, a group of petition circulators, regional team captains, and avid volunteers made a human chain in front of the Secretary of State’s office in Lansing, Michigan. The line of people stretched from the building’s entrance out to a parked moving van that was crammed full of hundreds of boxes of signed petitions. One by one, the volunteers passed each box from person to person, chatting and chanting over blaring upbeat music. Within an hour they had moved a total of 425,000 signed petitions up to the Secretary of State’s door—more than enough to get their initiative officially on the state ballot for the 2018 election.

The group was Voters Not Politicians, a ballot question committee seeking to amend the state constitution and establish an Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission that could break down heavily-gerrymandered voting districts and essentially reshape Michigan politics—ensuring that voters choose their politicians, not the other way around. That celebratory day in Lansing was the result of months of recruiting, organizing, and distributing leadership among 3,800 trained circulators. The fact that Voters Not Politicians is an entirely volunteer-led organization made the accomplishment all the more remarkable. (And, not a single signature was paid for.)

Feature
  • Built-in action pages

  • Advocacy groups use NationBuilder to create effective petitions, vote pledge pages, and more in minutes—with no coding required.

We spoke with Amelia Quilon, VNP Marketing and Communications Director, and Jamie Lyons-Eddy, VNP State Field Director, about how they ramped up such a successful operation so quickly. According to Quilon, their team had been communicating on Facebook and working from Google Sheets and Google forms at first, maintaining databases that didn’t integrate with their WordPress website. They needed a tool to help them manage their growing base of volunteers, send effective email blasts, and easily take donations, but most importantly, they needed something that was nonpartisan. “One of our key values is that we’ve created this nonpartisan solution and we’re advocating for it in a nonpartisan way, so we wanted to make sure that when someone came to our website they [wouldn’t be] immediately put off or [think] that we were a front for either party,” Quilon says.

Once they migrated onto NationBuilder, they needed to rapidly equip their 200 captains across 14 regional teams around the state to find and recruit volunteers. “Captains all had to be given designed permission sets that made sense for them, and then they had to be trained to filter and find people who were interested based on their area,” Lyons-Eddy says. “In most teams, one or two captains would emerge that are really good at it and they ended up showing everyone else the ropes. It was really a nice moment when we got everybody competent on NationBuilder.”

With the help of custom fields, the team used a volunteer survey to gauge their supporters’ interests and skills, assigning people to paths based on their interests. Once each supporter filled out the survey and shared more about their experience, they would be tagged based on their responses so that volunteer engagement team members could see that valuable information whenever they needed to filter their database for potential volunteers to help run events, educate, or fundraise.

Feature
  • Membership management

  • Organizations use memberships in NationBuilder to cultivate their supporters and turn their top volunteers into trusted leaders

“There’s a huge range of people volunteering, but the level of passionate engagement that we’ve seen is amazing,” Lyons-Eddy says. “There’s this tension between harnessing all of that, but then also staying organized and on-message.” The trick to helping such a wide range of people stay on message? Creating a members-only section of their website with approved resources, documentation, training, and helpful links for circulators to access at any time. Of VNP’s member-facing site, Lyons-Eddy says, “I’m not sure what we would have done without that, actually. It was huge.”

Quilon was similarly (and pleasantly) surprised by the sheer number of people willing to dedicate their time and efforts to Voters Not Politicians:

“Michigan’s ready for things to change, and one of the ways that we can change is by ending gerrymandering. [NationBuilder] helped us harness that energy. One of the questions we always get from other organizers is ‘how do you take these 3-5,000 people and reach out to them quickly?’ The thing that surprised me most was [actually] having all of those people and being able to capture them.”

-Amelia Quilon, Marketing and Communications Director

With the initiative poised to appear on the ballot, the next wave of organizing for Voters Not Politicians has begun. They aim to grow their group of 3,800 circulators into a crowd of almost 10,000 canvassers, but having beaten all their goals so far, Quilon and Lyons-Eddy—both engineers by education—seem hopeful and unphased:

“We’ve done this in kind of an unprecedented way, since we did it with all volunteers. We had 180 days in which to do it and we did it in 110. We actually collected over 425,000 signatures; we needed 315,654. I didn’t realize we had done something unique with NationBuilder, but apparently we did! We have all these people who learn it, own it, and figure it out, and that’s how we roll across the campaign.”

-Jamie Lyons-Eddy, State Field Director

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