Co-hosted by The Body Shop and HeadCount, a voter registration event held in Washington Square Park on Sept. 17 rallied hundreds of people to get registered or check their registration status.
Voter engagement is on the rise across the United States, with the elections of 2018, 2020 and 2022 breaking records for high turnout. But around a third of eligible U.S. voters — more than 50 million people — are still not registered to vote. Importantly, young people (those aged 18 to 25) are less likely to be registered. Earlier this month, activists, nonprofits and brands across the country marked National Voter Registration Day with engagement campaigns aimed at getting more people set up to head to the polls in November.
The observance day has proven a success since it first launched in 2012, with organizers reporting more than 5 million people registered to vote on the holiday over the past decade. In New York City on the sidelines of Climate Week and the U.N. General Assembly, brands including The Body Shop, Tony's Chocolonely and Partake Cookies joined civic organizers like HeadCount, Democracy NYC and NYU Votes for a registration event in Washington Square Park, where nearly 750 people registered to vote or checked their voter registration status.
Hundreds of similar activations took place across the U.S., but with the 2023 midterm elections approaching and a pivotal presidential election in 2024, this work is just beginning. So, what's still needed to get more folks registered, and how can brands keep the momentum going?
Talking heads on TV news often paint a picture of apathetic young people who can't be bothered to show up at the polls. But have you ever stopped to think about why more young people don't vote?
"We know that a disproportionately low percentage of young people are represented in government," said Hilary Lloyd, vice president of marketing and corporate responsibility for The Body Shop North America. "So then it follows that a disproportionately low percentage of young people's preferences or the issues they have passion for are represented in government."
Indeed, the median age is 57.9 years in the U.S. House of Representatives and 65.3 years in the U.S. Senate. Just three U.S. senators and 16 House members are under the age of 40.
With this in mind, it's less a matter of getting folks in their teens and 20s to put down the TikTok and head to the ballot box, and more about helping young people see themselves and the issues they care about represented in the public sector. On this front, state and local elections provide a vital proving ground, with a growing number of young people throwing their hats in the ring for public office. The November elections offer an actionable opportunity for their peers to get registered and support them.
"The more folks we can get engaged in civics early, the more likely we can get more representation for young people and the issues that young people are passionate about in political discourse across the U.S.," Lloyd said.
The Body Shop asked young people about those issues at the event it hosted with the youth voter registration organization HeadCount in Washington Square Park. "We hosted a customer engagement activity, asking folks who participated in the event to tell us what they're voting for, to put forward in people's minds what's important to them as we get into election season," Lloyd said.
Around 500 participants named issues ranging from LGBTQ+ and women's rights to climate justice, education and Social Security. Young organizers including Deja Foxx, a 23-year-old reproductive rights activist and founder of Gen Z Girl Gang, and Genesis Butler, a teen animal rights advocate and founder of Youth Climate Save, were in attendance helping to get people registered to vote. "It makes sense for young people to encourage young people to get involved in public discourse and democracy," Lloyd said.
The Body Shop hosted smaller events at retail stores across the U.S. and leveraged its e-commerce and social media platforms to get people registered. On an ongoing basis, shoppers can scan a QR code at "Act," or activism, Stations in The Body Shop stores to register to vote straight from their phones.
HeadCount's efforts with The Body Shop and other companies like Monumental Sports and Entertainment and Major League Baseball helped the organization register more than 16,000 voters this year, Lloyd said.
The Body Shop's voter registration campaign is part of a broader effort called Be Seen, Be Heard, which launched last year with the aim of getting more young people involved in public life. The campaign takes the form of partnership with groups like HeadCount and activists like Foxx and Butler, who will continue to partner with the company to drive voter registration on social media in the lead-up to 2024.
Beyond the U.S., Be Seen, Be Heard is global — and early outcomes from the campaign show what's possible when brands put concerted effort into engaging young people in the electoral process.
The campaign reached approximately 51 million people online in its first year, gathering more than 90,000 signatures on petitions related to key issues in countries around the world, according to the company. In Canada, store managers helped rally nearly 13,000 signatures in support of moving federal elections to the weekend so more young people can make the time to vote. In Malaysia, the company and its supporters successfully pressured the government to honor their commitment to lower the voting age from 21 to 18. In New Zealand, The Body Shop’s partner Make It 16 won a supreme court case which found the country's current voting age of 18 to be inconsistent with its bill of rights.
"Some really remarkable movements have taken place," Lloyd said. "We want to move people through petitioning government or petitioning for legislative change, which creates real, fundamental, systemic change."
While global civic activations may be out of reach for some companies, voter registration groups like HeadCount, Rock the Vote and NextGen America make it easy for any brand to get involved by hosting registration pages on their websites and spreading the word among their customers. Meanwhile organizations like Time to Vote are calling on companies to commit to give their employees paid time off to cast their ballots on election day.
"Be a facilitator for voter registration," Lloyd recommended to other business leaders. "Use your reach, use your platforms — both your retail and digital presences — to drive voter registration. Partner with folks like HeadCount or organizations who do the same."
It really can be as simple as sharing a post on social media, as the queen of summer Taylor Swift proved when her recent Instagram post drove a 1,226 percent jump in participation on the voter registration site Vote.org. Considering nearly half of U.S. states have recently passed legislation that makes it harder for people to vote — including changes to registration laws and polling locations — efforts like these are sorely needed, and certainly far from over.
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Images courtesy of The Body Shop
Mary has reported on sustainability and social impact for over a decade and now serves as managing editor of TriplePundit. She is also the general manager of TriplePundit's Brand Studio, which has worked with dozens of brands and organizations on sustainability storytelling.
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