Bluegrass Democracy Project works to get out the vote

Published 6:51 pm Monday, November 6, 2023

Voter turnout in Kentucky on non-presidential election years tend to be low.

But get-out-the-vote groups are working to change that. One of them is Bluegrass Democracy Project, which launched this year in the Commonwealth.

It’s a nonpartisan, nonprofit group supported by Organizing Empowerment Fund, which has now reached all 50 states.

The group is partnering with Rock the Vote and Kentucky Black to reach voters.

In the past six weeks, Bluegrass Democracy has reached over 100,000 potential voters through so-called relational organizing, said Mike Pfohl, Empower Project executive director.

Relational organizing involves energizing people to talk to their friends and family about important issues – in this case, the importance of voting in statewide elections.

“We’ve really seen having people talk to their friends and family is a key way to break down information silos and all that can exist in this day and age,” Pfohl said.

“Being able to talk to people who tend to be left out of politics and be left out of civic engagement activity and being able to have these conversations can really impact people’s lives and make sure they’re part of this larger, important conversation around democracy.”

This year, the Bluegrass Democracy Project recruited over a thousand Kentuckians to be community mobilizers, 38% of which were from communities of color.

Pfohl said that they tried to reach populations that are typically unreached according to voter files and other data, including communities of color, transient populations, youth and rural voters.

They then trained the community mobilizers on what information to share with their communities, like how to register to vote, where to vote and how to access reliable information on all the candidates on the ballot.

Mobilizers then were tasked with having several conversations with their peers about the upcoming election from mid-September to now.

Out of the over 100,000 conversations, almost 7,500 previously unregistered voters pledged to do so.

Over 11,500 of the Kentuckians community mobilizers talked to said that they did not know an election was coming up.

Pfohl sees using peer networks as a “refreshing” way to organize in a highly partisan national landscape.

“I think we’ve seen kind of traditional outreach methods that people may be more familiar with on campaigns seem to be getting less effective as people are taking fewer phone calls and opening the door to strangers and things like that not as frequently,” he said.