Books That Help Voting Activists Succeed

Transforming the electorateTo make real change, to be agents of BIG change, requires working constantly to make programs and campaigns more effective. How can you reach and involve more people? How can you make a difference BIG enough to tip the scales when election time comes?

Every voting activist wants to be as effective as possible. Register as many voters as possible. Get as many people to vote as possible. Some pretty smart folks have been looking at what has been done to increase registration and turnout in the past, and they have a lot to tell us about what we can do to be more effective, to get more results, more new voters, for our efforts.

Beyond the practical information, books incorporating our values and hopes can help us focus our motivating emotions. Biographies and autobiographies offer heroes, role models, and examples of the determination and willful perseverance often needed for success against the odds. These have immeasurable value in the process of inspiring social change. We do not work for bread alone. Heroes, and their values and ideals, are priceless.

We have generally tried to select for the best and most useful content. Books can be useful because of their ability to inspire and motivate, or they may be useful because they provide practical how-to information that can help activists be more effective, or they may be useful because they place the work of voting activists inside the bigger picture of the pro-democracy movement.

Get Out the Vote: How to Increase Voter Turnout. By Donald P. Green and Alan S. Gerber. Now in its 4th Edition, this practical guide has become the voter mobilization reference text both for those who manage campaigns and for grassroots activists alike. In this most recent edition, Green and Gerber shed new light on the cost-effectiveness and efficiency of various tactics, including door-to-door canvassing, e-mail, direct mail, and phone calls. Importantly, they give special attention to "relational organizing" through friend-to-friend communication and events.
2019 - 253 Pages

Mobilizing Inclusion: Transforming the Electorate through Get-Out-the-Vote Campaigns. By Lisa Garcia Bedolla and Melissa R. Michelson. Which get-out-the-vote efforts actually succeed in ethnically and racially diverse communities? The authors offer a persuasive way to explain why some methods work while others don't. They suggest a new frame to think about voting, which they call the Social Cognition Model. It is based on an individual's sense of civic identity. Their work is a useful guide and offers concrete strategies for voter mobilization efforts.
2012 - 304 Pages
Paperback | Kindle

How We Vote: Innovation in American Elections. By Kathleen Hale and Mitchell Brown. The authors analyze voting innovations, and the cause of voting activists will be served by understanding and supporting many of these innovations. The book discusses helpful changes in voter registration and voting options that would increase voter participation and convenience. Activists should also support innovations discussed by the authors to allow voting in languages other than English, to safeguard the integrity of the voting process, and to utilize modern voting system technology to make voting easier and safer.
2020 - 320 Pages
Hardcover | Kindle

Voting Rights in America: A Reference Handbook. By Richard A. Glenn and Kyle L. Kreider. This reference book chronicles voting rights in the United States, from the colonial period to the present. It includes an examination of current controversies, profiles of key leaders, ten original essays on voting rights, and an annotated bibliography.
2020 - 379 Pages
Hardcover | Kindle

Turnout: Making Minnesota the State That Votes

Turnout! Mobilizing Voters in an Emergency

The Turnout Gap: Race, Ethnicity, and Political Inequality in a Diversifying America

The Virgin Vote: How Young Americans Made Democracy Social, Politics Personal, and Voting Popular in the Nineteenth Century

The Embattled Vote in America: From the Founding to the Present

Vote for US: How to Take Back Our Elections and Change the Future of Voting

One Person, No Vote: How Voter Suppression Is Destroying Our Democracy

The Politics of Voter Suppression: Defending and Expanding Americans' Right to Vote

Thank You for Voting: The Maddening, Enlightening, Inspiring Truth About Voting in America

Votes That Count and Voters Who Don't: How Journalists Sideline Electoral Participation (Without Even Knowing It)

Why Bother? Rethinking Participation in Elections & Protests

America Votes! Challenges to Modern Election Law and Voting Rights

Looking beyond voter turnout and related issues, the books listed below address democracy issues more broadly and help by placing voting activists’ efforts in a larger social and political context.

Broken: American Political Dysfunction And What To Do About It. Adam Garfinkle.

Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right. By Jane Mayer. 

How Democracies Die. By Steven Levitsky & Daniel Ziblatt. 

It's Even Worse Than It Looks: How the American Constitutional System Collided with the New Politics of Extremism. By Thomas E. Mann & Norman J. Ornstein.

Listen, Liberal: Or, What Ever Happened to the Party of the People? Thomas Frank. 

Losing the News: The Future of the News That Feeds Democracy. By Alex S. Jones.

Losing Our Way: An Intimate Portrait of a Troubled America. By Bob Herbert.

Nation on the Take: How Big Money Corrupts Our Democracy and What We Can Do About It. By Wendell Potter. 

Public Opinion. By Walter Lippmann.

Rules for Revolutionaries: How Big Organizing Can Change Everything. By Becky Bond & Zack Exley. 

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Published: August 2019
Revised: July 2023

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