As the midterm elections swiftly approach, the heat is on for voters to make big decisions about the future of our nation.
In an era of media partisanship and political gridlock, voters face a tough time sifting through the information to come to terms with what is true and what is not.
The 2018 American Civic Collaboration Awards have recognized organizations which represent excellence in elevating democracy and civic engagement through collaboration and with measurable results to back up the success of their respective missions.
IVN sat down with a few of the winners of the 2018 Civvys in each category to find out what inspired these people to take action and how they achieved such success.
Winner: "Yes on Project 1"
The Foundation for Independent Voter Education and the Chamberlain Project Foundation won first place in the political category for their successful efforts in “Yes on Project 1”. It helped to protect a ballot initiative that was passed in 2016 to institute ranked choice voting in Maine after the state legislature voted to block it. RCV is in use for this year's midterm elections.
RCV allows voters to rank candidates in order of preference. Last place candidates are eliminated until the candidate with the majority wins. A key to the success of "Yes on Project 1" was the emphasis placed on demystifying the RCV process. A large part of this was accomplished by FIVE’s media arm, the Independent Voter Network and its consistent news coverage of the issue from start to finish.
According to Civvys judge David Sawyer, ranked choice voting is “a game changer for the nation, breaking the polarization paradigm.” Two other judges called this work “an essential experiment” in the “laboratory of democracy.”
Winner: First Vote North Carolina
A key to First Vote NC's success is de-emphasizing the right versus wrong nature of today’s politics through a virtual voting platform and civics lessons, which provide education, information, and room for engagement through firsthand experience.
"In a very practical sense, there is no better way to learn anything than by doing it," says Hunter Buxton, the founder of First Vote NC. "We want it to not be an us against them scenario, but we all have perceptions and different cultures that we grow up in that form how we view the world."
That ‘just do it’ mentality can include designing a school-wide election, gathering voter information, and making decisions that affect the actual voting process. “What we think is especially appealing to students is that its data about themselves. Students host the election, and they have to decide do we want voter registration do we need ID, do we have early voting and by doing all of this they are learning about what it takes to have an election,” she says.
The teachers that First Vote NC has mobilized use their own time to carry out the program for their students, and it’s worked. First Vote's platform has reached over 40,000 students in 46 counties.
Leading the way in the technology category is iCivics. It was founded by Justice Sandra Day O’Connor and leads the way in civics education by simplifying complex topics through digital games, quizzes, surveys and more.
Often times the platform is ahead of the curve in classroom technology. More than 200,000 teachers use iCivics resources to educate and engage 5 million K-12 students in all 50 states – many of which have no required civics curriculum.
The platform’s next steps include bringing more complex and nuanced issues to the classroom, even those that overwhelm politically astute adults.
“We thought, wait what is the hardest but most important topic for kids to learn in American history? And we’re like, the debate over ratification of the constitution, we should make a game about that. So, we are,” says Chief Education Officer Dr. Emma Humphries. She and Digital Media Manager Amber Coleman-Mortley were there to accept the award and sat down with IVN to talk tech, teaching and the plan to double their reach by 2020.
Winner: InterFaith Works
InterFaith Works has bridged the social, political, and ethnic divides within their central New York community time and again - that is why it took home the Civvy in the local category.
“What we were saying earlier when we were given the award. I really do feel that everything that’s wrong with our country can be solved by everything that’s right with our country,” says President and CEO Beth Broadway.
Whether it is faced with uniting locals and their police department in a relationship of understanding or bringing together Catholic and Muslim faith leaders to mobilize their followers to save a historic church by establishing a Muslim worship center, InterFaith Works has proven for years that it has the components of a civic operation that works time and again.
Tied with InterFaith Works for the Civvy in this category is the Colorado State University Center for Public Deliberation which promotes conversation instead of competition and critique to bring together communities, local governments and organizations together by providing forums with the university as a convener.
Winner: Montevallo Junior City Council
A group of students from a rural Alabama community, population 6,000, accepted the committees choice award at the Civvys. In 2012 a group of young students in Montevallo, Alabama founded the Montevallo Junior City Council to address the needs of local youth. Now the second generation, so to speak, has taken the reins.
Council member Olivia Gilbert’s older brother was one of the eight original members, “They wanted more things for the youth to do in our town. We had so many ideas, but they weren’t actually fulfilling what it said it would do so they thought that if they had a way to do these things that they would actually get done. And it did, and it happened because of those eight.”
"I am very proud of our ordinance that we got passed," says council member Gavin Monk. “If a new mayor is to come in and not like the idea of a Montevallo Junior City Council, they cannot get rid of it.”
The JCC hosts deliberative forums, developed a merchant discount card for teens, convened a mayoral debate, and is planning a pride parade. Their nomination noted, “In the decade I have worked in civic engagement, I have never seen a group of young people is given as much real power to make positive change in their community.”