Reaching Voters through Community: My Work with SF Elections and USFVotes

Read along  on a journey of civic empowerment with Hannah Nelson as she intertwines her experiences with USFVotes and the San Francisco Department of Elections. In her blog post, Hannah shares the transformative power of community engagement, breaking down stereotypes of formal government work, and highlighting her role in making elections more accessible. Join her in exploring the impact of voter outreach, addressing barriers to voting, and fostering equitable public policy. This compelling narrative encapsulates Hannah’s commitment to shaping a future where every voice matters in the democratic process.

In my first year at USF, I joined USFVotes because I wanted to become more involved on campus while my classes were on Zoom. I also wanted to encourage my peers to share their voices by voting. I believe voting is one important way that we can shape formal policy and enact social change. This fall, I interned in the Outreach Division of the San Francisco Department of Elections through the McCarthy Center’s San Francisco Fellows Program. This experience allowed me to continue pursuing voter outreach while developing professional skills that will help me build a future career in public service.

The Outreach Division at SF Elections is the face of the department for many voters. The team makes appearances at community events throughout the city, registers voters, and communicates information about upcoming elections. When I was first matched with the Outreach Division through the McCarthy Center, I was excited to continue working on an issue area that I was already familiar with. At the same time, I didn’t know what to expect and was nervous to start working in a formal institution like city government. I quickly discovered, however, that government doesn’t have to be formal or intimidating and can look like conversations with constituents and responding to challenges in a collaborative environment. 

Though I also assisted with research-related and administrative tasks in my internship, the most rewarding part for me was tabling at events, where I registered San Francisco voters and answered questions about the voting process. I attended an event at the UCSF Mission Bay campus, at USCIS citizenship ceremonies, and even a couple of events at USF. I had a comfort level with this type of work since I have tabled with USFVotes many times. Through my internship, though, I became more confident with meeting new people, strengthened my communication skills, and learned how to better encourage people to register to vote. At these events, I could see the impact of my work and knew I was making a difference in San Francisco by making voting more accessible to everyone I talked to. 

My work with SF Elections sharpened my understanding of what equitable public policy looks like. There is a history of discriminatory voting laws and voter suppression, and truly equitable elections have to address barriers to voting and make registration and voting as easy as possible for all voters. This means responding to voters’ specific needs. For example, one barrier to voting is language barriers when filling out voter registration forms. The Outreach team prioritizes translation, has multiple bilingual staff members, and we would often bring registration forms translated into different languages to events. The team also cultivates partnerships with community-based organizations to understand the needs of different San Francisco neighborhoods.

In the future, I hope to continue working to make elections more accessible. I am excited to register new voters with USFVotes and apply the new skills and strategies I learned in my internship. As I am looking toward graduation in the spring, I am applying for public policy fellowships and jobs for next year. I believe this experience makes me a stronger candidate on future applications, as I now have practical experience with local government. I will personally carry an understanding of how to enact policy in a way that is equitable and is responsive to community needs into whatever career path I pursue. 

Learn more about becoming a McCarthy Fellow in San Francisco here!

Bay AreaCaliforniaCalifornia PoliticsCommunity Empowerment ActivistsLeo T. McCarthy CenterMcCarthy Fellow in San FranciscoMcCarthy Fellowspolicypoliticsstudent leadersUndergraduate

Athena Davis • January 28, 2024

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