Get Out the Vote Do’s and Don’ts
A successful get-out-the-vote campaign must be a compliant one! Election activities carried out in AAUW’s name must be conducted within the guidelines set out in AAUW policies. Activities must also be allowable under regulations established by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and the Federal Election Commission.*
AAUW branches and state organizations may conduct election-related activities, as long as:
- the activities do not expressly advocate the election or defeat of any clearly identified partisan candidate or political party; and
- the preparation for and conduct of the election-related activities are not coordinated with any candidate or political party.
Acting as private citizens, individual AAUW members may endorse candidates for partisan elective office, contribute money or anything of value to such candidate(s), and organize for supporting such candidate(s). Such endorsement, contribution, or organizing activity cannot use the name of AAUW. Any AAUW member who is actively involved in a candidate’s campaign should avoid participating in activities that may give the appearance of AAUW’s endorsement of the candidate.
To help you be compliant in your campaign activities, we’ve put together this list of basic election do’s and don’ts. This list is not exhaustive and it is therefore vital that branches review and understand AAUW policies, IRS regulations, and federal and state election law before undertaking any election-related efforts.
- Inform people of their right to vote, or tell them when and where to vote on Election Day. Urge voters by phone, door-to-door canvassing, e-mail, or public service announcements to remember to vote on Election Day. With the safety precautions altered due to the COVID-19 crisis, try to shift outreach to social media and virtual events.
- Register eligible voters in your community. Notify the public using signs and handouts that all information is available to individuals without regard to their political preference. See state rules about registration requirements, including training requirements for those registering voters. More information can be found on the National Association of State Election Directors and U.S. Election Assistance Commission websites.
- Work in coalition. Identify particular groups in the community (e.g., women, students, people of color, people with disabilities) to be part of coalition efforts or to receive election materials. Decisions about groups with which to work closely should be based on factors such as the desire to build a broad-based coalition, not on whether an anticipated coalition partner can affect the outcome of an election. Any political action committee or organization that has endorsed a candidate cannot be asked to be a part of AAUW voter education or voter turnout efforts.
- Distribute material educating voters about the issues at stake in the election. Focus issue education messages and get-out-the-vote activities on the impact that the election results will have on AAUW priority issues. Those messages or activities must not expressly advocate the election or defeat of any candidate or party.
- Host a candidate forum. Invite all major-party candidates running for a particular office to attend a candidate forum or debate to discuss their views and answer questions posed by members of the community. All major party candidates for the office must be invited, and an effort must be made to ensure their participation. For the full set of rules pertaining to candidate forums, see AAUW Policy 301 in the Board of Directors Policy Book.
- Produce and distribute unbiased candidate questionnaires covering a range of AAUW issues. All candidates running for the offices that are covered in the questionnaire must have the opportunity to participate. Questions must be phrased as neutrally possible; language must not favor or disfavor a particular candidate. All responses received must be printed in their entirety in any publication of responses to the questionnaire. The publication of responses should include the names of all candidates to whom the questionnaire was sent, but publication may proceed even if all candidates do not respond.
- Only 501(c)(4) states or branches: Publish voter guides that include the position of major-party candidates on specific issues. The AAUW Action Fund makes available head-to-head voter guides for key races and draft templates for 501(c)(4) branches to use to create their own. The information in the voter guides must be available from public sources, such as prior votes cast by candidates, position papers, or public statements made by the candidate. AAUW’s voter guide template is available here.
- Only 501(c)(4) states or branches: Publish voting records for the state’s congressional delegation, state legislature, or other body. The voting record must include all incumbents within the district or geographic area. Its content (e.g., the votes to be included) and distribution must not be coordinated with candidates.
- Target any voter registration efforts at members of a particular political party or at individuals likely to vote for partisan candidates who support AAUW issues. Notify the public on signs and any handouts that all registration information is available to individuals without regard to their political preference or support for AAUW issues. See state rules about registration requirements. Information can be found on the National Association of State Election Directors and U.S. Election Assistance Commission websites.
- Endorse candidates in any partisan election, including local, state, congressional, gubernatorial, or presidential elections. Do not make oral or written statements supporting or opposing a political candidate, party, or Political Action Committee (PAC). Do not tell individuals, communities, or voters which candidates to support or oppose.
- Distribute advocacy materials or voter guides as part of voter registration or in conjunction with any event designed to highlight an incumbent’s or candidate’s position (e.g., a press conference regarding how a member of Congress voted on budget cuts affecting women and families). Voter registration materials can be made available on separate from issue advocacy materials at events– including virtual events.
- Invite or permit only selected candidates to address your members at events or meetings. For the full set of rules pertaining to candidate appearances, see AAUW Policy 301 in the Board of Directors Policy Book.
- Coordinate any election-related activities with a political candidate, party, or PAC in planning or carrying out nonpartisan voter registration, education, or turnout activity. Do not provide membership lists to be used in fundraising or other efforts as an in-kind gift to any political campaign. This includes AAUW e-mail, phone, and mailing lists.
- Use AAUW e-mail, phone, or mail network updates to expressly advocate on behalf of a candidate who is running for partisan political office. This includes advocating financial or any other in-kind support of a particular candidate.
*Note: AAUW is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization and the AAUW Action Fund is a 501(c)(4) nonprofit organization. It is important to know your branch’s tax status before undertaking any election activities. Certain AAUW policies prohibit 501(c)(3) organizations from undertaking some activities that are legally permissible for 501(c)(4) organizations. Election activity guidelines for state and local races sometimes differ from those found in federal regulations. To determine state and local regulations for partisan and nonpartisan races, check with your state elections division.