Adult students at California’s library literacy programs have long been some of our most valued co-creators and collaborators in designing accessible nonpartisan election information, such as the Easy Voter Guide. Last year, the California State Library supported a refresh of the Key to Community Voter Engagement Project. Adult learner leaders from around the state came to Sacramento to be trained to deliver in-person voting workshops for the March 2020 Primary, alongside literacy program staff. The workshops were a success, and the team was proud of how they demonstrated that nonpartisan peer-to-peer education increased participation among those less likely to vote.

Taru Shah, a learner leader at the Placentia Public Library, displays her “I Voted” sticker.

When it became clear this spring that the pandemic would prevent in-person voting workshops for the November 2020 election, the team brought commitment and creativity to keeping the momentum going. Adult learners started monthly planning meetings on Zoom, with a few Zoom champions mentoring others to make sure everyone could participate. A one minute introductory video blossomed into a Key to Community You Tube channel which features a mix of inspirational and informational virtual workshops and a refresh of the Key to Community website which provides step-by-step voting support for newer voters The project’s toolkit for in-person workshops was completely redesigned to support online meetings and one-on-one voter education.

In their workshops this fall, the Key to Community team emphasized asking people to start by thinking about the issues they care about, before learning more about the elected officials who can influence those issues. The team stressed the need to participate in local and statewide elections, helping voters to deepen their understanding of how change is made locally and across the state. They also coached others on how to use the Easy Voter Guide and Voter’s Edge website when filling out their ballots.

The team was staunchly committed to empowering people to make their own decisions. For example, Resonja Willoughby at the Oakland Public Library’s Second Start program made house calls to help students get the technology access they needed. Faye Combs extended her audience beyond Berkeley READS to regionwide church gatherings and youth leaders at colleges across the country. Her enthusiasm for voting inspired her cousin to send Faye the shoes that spelled out V-O-T-E. Phebe Dennis served as a multi-day poll worker in Stanislaus County. New leaders also emerged, such as Taru Shah at Placentia Public Library, who became one of the team’s Voter’s Edge experts. Meet some of the most active members of the team at this link. And the very good news is that the group is reconvening early in 2021 to build their skills in leading “Community Talk” discussions to help people stay engaged with the issues they care about. The team’s guiding principle is to keep “growing the good” in every community.