Wanna vote? Stay tuned

September 26, 2014 

Rikki Martinez of Power 106 with Registrar-Recorder staffers Efrain Escobedo, right, and Phillip Verbera.

Power 106 may be where hip hop lives. But it’s also home to a big part of Los Angeles County’s strategy for getting new voters into the booth.

Yes, that was Power 106 radio personality Rikki Martinez posing for photos this week during a Cal State L.A. voter registration event with Registrar-Recorder staff, including the boss, Dean Logan.

“Ain’t no way I’m go’n let OUR voice go unheard,” Martinez said in her National Voter Registration Day tweet to 33,000-plus Twitter followers (including Logan.)

Don’t touch that dial: it’s a brand new era in voter outreach in L.A. County.

Buoyed by successful partnerships with radio stations during the last presidential election year, 2012, the Registrar-Recorder is seeking to turn things up a notch with the approach of mid-term elections—traditionally a tougher time to engage and motivate would-be participants in the electoral process.

Efrain Escobedo, who helped pioneer the department’s work with radio stations two years ago, said that traditional models—like setting up voter registration tables at events—just aren’t enough to get the job done anymore.

With more than 1 million potential voters in the county still unregistered, he said, it makes sense to turn to radio, with its strong built-in relationships across a variety of platforms. Beyond listening in the car during L.A.’s endless rush hours, audiences stream radio programming on their computers at work and home, while using their cell phones to call in for contests or text in for ticket giveaways.

“The way people live their lives today has changed. Their devices are a central part of how they live their lives and people use media in a much different way than they used to,” said Escobedo, the Registrar-Recorder’s manager of governmental and legislative affairs. “We’re probably not the best messengers. So we identified radio stations to be a medium that is all about having a direct relationship with the listener.”

Tactics like text-back campaigns, in which people vying for free concert tickets get a text message reply urging them to register online, already have proven their value.

Now it’s time to go deeper.

“This year, we’re actually sitting down together with station talent and all of their editors and content managers” to come up with ways to tailor the voting message to each station’s unique audience, Escobedo said.

Although the county is investing $250,000 in the program leading up to the Nov. 4 election, “this is not an ad buy,” Escobedo said. Rather, the idea is “to foster a culture of civic participation within the station” and let in-house teams take the lead on getting the message across.

For example, one of the participating stations, Super Estrella 107.1, will be leveraging the bi-cultural stories of its on-air personalities to create videos about why voting is personally important to them.

“They’re also tapping back to this notion that voting is power and that the Latino community has gained power by voting,” Escobedo said. “They’re showcasing all of these key icons in the Latino community, from Edward James Olmos to Jaime Escalante to Sonia Sotomayor, finding motivational quotes and then they’re reminding people, ‘Hey, we stand on their shoulders, we have to continue to vote to keep this legacy going, so go out and vote.’ ”

While key targets include young Latinos and African Americans of voting age, the media partnerships are across a broad spectrum—from K-EARTH 101.1 and KROQ 106.7 to Jose 97.5-103.1 and television channels in Mandarin, Korean, Filipino and Japanese.

While this election season presents its challenges, voting officials have one distinct advantage this time around: online registration is now well established in California. (You can do it right now, by clicking here.)

After it first was signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown in 2012, however, voting officials had just 28 days to capitalize on the new mode of signing up to vote before the close of registration. They scrambled, along with their radio partners, to make the most of the short window of time available.

“In those 28 days, 250,000 people registered to vote online [in L.A. County.] Sixty percent of all the people who registered to vote online in that period were under the age of 30—which is the primary demographic for stations like Super Estrella and Power 106,” Escobedo said. “So I’d like to think that we were a huge driver in that. The last day to register to vote, we did a huge push with the stations…That day alone, we had 90,000 people register to vote.”

This year, registration closes on Oct. 20. As that day approaches, look for more events like the one that drew Rikki Martinez to Cal State L.A.—where some 300 students took advantage of the festivities to sign up to vote—along with a stream of online and on-air pitches that are anything but conventional.

“Because no one’s going to come to an event to register to vote. They’re going to come to be inspired,” Escobedo said. “We truly believe that we’ve found the winning formula.”

Posted 9/26/14

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