How to Be a VoterVOX Translator
The Basics: What To Expect
When you register for VoterVOX, you first need to be approved. If you aren’t working with an organization, you’ll read this guide and then take a quiz that’s designed to determine that you’ve read, and understand, this guide. Once you’ve been verified, your account will be approved and you can start matching with voters.
If you’re a VoterVOX volunteer who has signed up with an organization, your organization may have you skip this step, especially if you have done voter assistance or canvassing before. Contacting the staff of your organization will get you the information you need to do this.
Matching With Voters
Once you’re approved, matching begins. In 2016, 18MillionRising.org is providing field support for two states: California and Minnesota. Volunteers who live in other states are welcome to sign up and be approved — it’ll just depend on your area whether or not voters will sign up for assistance.
You will automatically begin matching with voters. While you’re more likely to match with voters in your area, there’s also a possibility of matching with a voter who you can’t meet with in-person. If it’s possible to help that person, feel free to complete the match! Otherwise, go ahead and decline the match — there are plenty of other volunteers who may be able to help.
Once you and the voter have both accepted a match, you will be put directly into contact with the voter, to make things as easy as possible. When trying to find a time to meet, make every effort to avoid too much back-and-forth — it’s tiring for you, and them, and the longer your email thread or telephone tag, the less likely it is you’ll actually meet!
Some things that might help you to prepare:
- Remind the voter they need to be registered to vote. Different states have different deadlines, and some states even have polling place registration. If your voter isn’t registered, let them know they can register in-language in many languages here.
- Ask the voter if they are able to vote by mail. In California and Minnesota, you don’t need a reason to order a mail-in ballot. If your voter would like to bring an actual ballot to your meeting, let them know they can get a mail-in ballot here.
Preparing For Your Meeting
Now that you’ve set a meeting time, it’s time to start preparing. You’ve read through this guide, but you should do a couple more things before you head out.
First, you should try to find a copy of the actual ballot your voter will be working with.
- In California, you may find this information by visiting the Secretary of State’s website and finding the right County Elections Office website.
- In Minnesota, you will want to visit the Secretary of State’s MyBallotMN website.
Next, check the Voter Resources section of the VoterVOX website. You may find additional voter guides, dictionaries, and other tools that you might find useful while meeting with your voter.
Finally, make sure you bring things with you. If you have a preferred dictionary, for instance, you might find it useful. A pen and paper might be good to bring, as well as a charged smartphone or laptop.
If you are meeting at a polling place on Election Day, note that you may be challenged when you try to help your voter. It is perfectly legal for a voter to be accompanied by a translator of their choice, and to bring supplementary materials with them into the voting booth. Challenges to these rights are not unheard-of: be aware that you may need to back your voter up on this.
The Basics: Your Responsibilities
There is a set of laws that govern how you can provide assistance to voters who are trying to cast a ballot. They ensure that the ballot cast reflects the views of the voter. After all, our goal is primarily to remove barriers to participation — not create new ones.
The most important rule of ballot translation is: you must remain non-partisan. This means that you cannot tell someone how to vote, merely share essential information about what’s on the ballot.
Other restrictions on what you can do to assist voters:
- You may not fill out a ballot for the voter. Each voter must mark the ballot themselves, and place the ballot in a collection machine or mailbox for mail-in voting themselves.
- You must give equal assistance to a voter regardless of their point of view. The point of voter assistance is not to influence the outcome of the election, but rather to ensure our community’s perspectives are accurately represented by polling numbers.
The VoterVOX community is collecting and translating voter guides to help you answer questions about candidates and issues, but you should not show preference about partisan races or tell voters how to vote. Even ballot initiative voter guides are generally written as suggestions to potential voters, not instructions on how to vote.
What Counts as Non-Partisan?
We know you have political opinions — that’s probably why you’re here! But imagine if a gatekeeper helping you vote only explained why the opposition candidate was the right one, not the pros and cons of each. You’d be pretty irritated, and for good reason: as a voter, you’re trying to make the best choice based on what you believe and what you believe is best for your community.
Of course, most cases aren’t this clear cut. As a translator, you should steer clear, for instance, of words and phrases that pass implicit judgement on a candidate or issue stance. We all communicate a lot more through facial expressions, tone, and gesture than we do with mere words, so being mindful of how you react to questions is important too.
Sometimes, a voter will ask you who they should vote for. In this case, firmly reiterating that you are merely there to help them understand how to vote and what is on the ballot is crucial. You might want to tell them that you can’t do that because you respect their freedom to form their own opinions, and that you are here to make their voting process as easy as possible.
- Tell the voter about the candidates’ stances on issues that matter to them.
- Share information about the candidates’ experience and resumes to help them make a decision.
- Tell the voter whom they should vote for.
- Tell the voter about only candidates you like.
- Tell the voter unsubstantiated rumors about one candidate in order to sway the opinion of the voter.
When you’re helping a voter understand what’s on the ballot, you may be asked to explain what a ballot measure does or what a candidate stands for. We recommend taking a look at both a sample ballot and a local voter guide for your area before you meet with your voter match.
- Explain the language of a ballot measure in plain language.
- Explain the expected outcomes of a ballot measure passing or failing.
- Let the voter know what community organizations, individuals, and unions might be endorsing the ballot measure.
- Tell the voter how to vote on the ballot measure.
Help When You Need It
You also aren’t alone out there. If you ever want some clarification on how to answer a voter’s questions, or want to clarify these guidelines, don’t hesitate to drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org. We will respond via email, or, if you include a phone number, call you, as soon as humanly possible.
Additionally, check the written resources provided on votervox.org. You might find an answer to a question, or a frame for an issue, you hadn’t considered.
Finally, to get quick assistance, you might have luck pinging other users on the VoterVOX Volunteers Slack channel. You should receive an invitation once you get approved to translate!
The Story of Voting Rights
When you become a volunteer for VoterVOX, you become part of the illustrious history of individuals in the United States working together to defend and expand the reach of “the franchise” — also known as who can vote in this country. Ever since the founding of the United States, people have had to struggle for the right to vote, and access to the ballot, much like our communities are today. Watch this short video to learn more about this epic struggle.
These are common questions you may get from voters — and recommended ways of responding to keep your work non-partisan. You can download a recent version of this as a PDF here.
Q: Can you fill out my ballot for me?
A: I respect your right to have an opinion of your own — and I think it’s important that you express it. And, technically, it’s against the law.
Q: Is candidate X better than candidate Y?
A: Both candidates have their strengths and weaknesses, and you’ll have to decide that for yourself. We can talk about the experience and track record each candidate has, as well as issues they have taken public stands on, to help you determine who you think is better.
Q: How should I vote on Measure X?
A: I can’t tell you how you should vote on this measure, but we can talk about the anticipated outcomes if it passes. I also have a list of organizations which have taken sides on the measure, if that would be helpful to you.
Q: Who is paying for this work?
A: I’m a volunteer, which means I am not being compensated to help you, but VoterVOX is a project of 18MillionRising. They’re a non-profit organization that has raised donations and investments to do this project. Because of their funding, they are strictly non-partisan and don’t endorse any candidate or party.
If you have a question that you think should be added to this FAQ, send it in an email to email@example.com.