In March 2020, the pandemic struck both our libraries and our local Voter Registrar hard. Library staff jumped in quickly, planning and assisting our Registrar colleagues with the massive absentee voting workload, informing voters, and assembling voting materials for our Municipal, Primary, and General Elections.
Originally in late 2019, we had worked with our Voter Registrar and other groups to create a year-long in-person program series to improve civic engagement throughout our city, complete with storytime sessions for children, led by city leaders. We had already completed a civics quiz and a February session on Virginia’s Primary elections. When the shutdown of buildings to the public occurred around March 13, our municipal election was less than two months away. We immediately worked with our Voter Registrar to assemble absentee ballot packet materials, prepping them for the ballots to be included. We had teams of library staff engaged in this while we conducted phone reference. At the same time, we also had additional staff processing online absentee ballot requests and within a couple of days, fulfilling and mailing absentee ballots to citizens. We also assisted with the flood of phone calls from citizens requesting information on the election. In a normal municipal election, we would normally have 1000-1500 requests, and by the election date, which was pushed back to May 19th, we had processed over 20,000. Partly due to our efforts, we actually exceeded past voter turnout, even in a pandemic (33,892 up from 24,280 in 2018). Most importantly, we helped prevent any long lines on Election Day, and helped keep voters and poll workers safe.
We continued to produce absentee ballot mailing materials for the primaries in June, even as we ramped up our curbside services and later re-opened our facilities to the public (at first with capacity limits).
In September we began assisting the Registrar with the November election. Our staff again assisted with voter registration in all of our branches, with processing absentee ballot applications, with labeling and mailing out ballots, and providing phone reference inquiries to the Registrar’s office. Library staff were uniquely suited to this work due to our experience providing informational customer service to the public in an equitable manner and due to our attention to detail.
We worked together, pivoted, and persevered to serve our citizens with new services and methods of informing voters, keeping them safe, and increasing civic engagement. Beyond the benefits of serving our public, our staff was seen by city officials, the public and the press very positively, helping us ensure that our community’s positive attitude towards the library remained so, even during a pandemic.
...partner and deepen their relationship with their local board of elections, enabling increased civic engagement and voter participation in their community.
...demonstrate to their community libraries' ability to inform and assist beyond the traditional "materials, spaces, and computers" public understanding, creating new advocates for the library with every voter served.
...see when to pivot when a strategic project is subject to a global health crisis, break down the goals of that project, and work toward accomplishing those goals anyway.