Election day is quickly approaching, and throughout Birmingham efforts to register young and first-time voters will be taking place at music venues throughout the Magic City.
HeadCount, a national nonprofit, nonpartisan voter registration organization, recently announced a partnership with with Birmingham-area music venues to host a string of concerts in September and October to help young people and first-time voters register on site.
The effort in Birmingham is part of a national operation for the New York-based HeadCount, which announced this week that it is hosting over 300 voter registration concerts throughout the country in over 80 cities before the November elections.
Founded in 2004 by a group of musicians including the Grateful Dead’s Bob Weir and the Disco Biscuits’ Marc Brownstein, HeadCount was started in an effort to get more young people, a statistically lagging demographic in elections, involved in the democratic process in the United States through concerts. To date, the organization has been responsible for registering approximately 360,000 first-time voters.
Danielle Hessong, the Birmingham team leader for HeadCount, said the relationship between music and social change got her involved with HeadCount in the first place. What better way, she said, to reach young people than through music?
“Music is inherently a social phenomenon,” Hessong said. “So many young people are going to music events and there is so much power within music that we want to harness it. We realized through music that we could do something extremely powerful and productive.”
As a demographic, 18-to-24-year-old voters have been historically underrepresented in elections. Some pundits point to apathy, others to lack of education on issues. But Hessong said one of the reasons could be that first-time voters might not be aware of the procedures or requirements of voter registration or how easy that very process of registering can be.
“It might just be part of it that it is inexperience,” she said. “They haven’t had the time to see how all of these decisions impact their life. They might not be receiving the right education or information that illustrates how easy it is and productive it is to vote. We want to show them that you can be young and not apathetic about it.”
And that is where HeadCount comes in. The company works throughout major cities in the United States with bands and promoters to set up voter registration booths at concerts. At its events, the company’s volunteers make registering to vote simple. Concertgoers head over to the company’s booth, fill out their voting information and HeadCount does the rest. It is that easy, Hessong said.
“They don’t have to mail their registration, and they don’t have to do any research,” she said. “It takes them a minute to fill out their information, and we send it off and do everything they need to do. The process makes them feel empowered and like they did something great at the event.”
HeadCount is aiming to register 50,000 first-time voters this year, and Hessong said the company is well on its way to reaching that goal. Helping a whole demographic of people to have their voices heard in elections is what truly makes HeadCount great, Hessong said.
“I was listening to so much music and it was taking up my time and it felt like I wasn’t doing anything that meant something,” Hessong said. “When I saw HeadCount, I thought it was the perfect way to blend those two interests. The more people we can register to vote and get out there and express their democratic duties, the better.”
Currently HeadCount has one more concert scheduled in this area: Andrew Bird at Saturn Tuesday, October 4. For more information visit headcount.org/events.