The Co-ops Vote program launched by NRECA in 2016 to boost civic engagement among electric cooperative consumer-members is finding new champions in other co-op sectors throughout the nation this election year.

The National Cooperative Business Association CLUSA International, in collaboration with Co-ops Vote, initiated the Twin Pines Voter Project in February to encourage its member co-ops to register voters, share critical voting information and help community members make plans to vote.

The project also aims to educate candidates and voters on key co-op issues, including inclusive economic growth through co-ops, fair tax treatment for co-ops and promoting co-op values in international development.

“It’s an NRECA initiative that has grown outside of NRECA,” says Jeffrey Connor, NRECA’s chief operating officer and an NCBA board member. “It’s evidence that the concept of being engaged on politics and policymaking is part of the cooperative spirit.”

NCBA’s collaboration with NRECA allows it to use the Co-ops Vote logo, hashtag, website and toolkit, says Laura Vogel, NRECA’s senior adviser for political affairs.

“I would love to see an uptick in participation in National Voter Registration Day as well as increased brand recognition for Co-ops Vote,” Vogel says.

National Voter Registration Day is Sept. 20, and Americans will be heading to the polls on Nov. 8 to choose members of Congress, governors, state legislators and local officials.

NCBA has more than 300 members, according to its 2021 annual report. They include grocery co-ops, worker-owned co-ops, credit unions, housing co-ops and more.

“I’m so grateful to NRECA to have the infrastructure in place as a launching pad for the other co-ops,” says Kate LaTour, government relations director at NCBA CLUSA.

LaTour and Vogel say they hope to encourage some friendly competition among the various types of co-ops to increase participation in Co-ops Vote activities.

“I can see myself saying to our electric co-ops, ‘Hey guys, the grocers have 50 voter registration events, and we only have 12. Let’s step it up,’” Vogel says.

'Nonpartisan nature'

Flat Iron has hosted several meet-and-greets to bring community members together to hear from local and state candidates, says Larisa Demos, a co-founding member of the worker-owned co-op, which opened its doors last December. The co-op was also planning a voter registration information day.

“Following the co-op principles, including principle No. 5—education, training and information—why wouldn’t we do this?” Demos says. “To educate people and be here for the community is really our goal on this. Citizens can learn about the candidates, and the candidates can learn about co-ops.”

Just like NRECA’s member co-ops, NCBA’s members have a strict policy of not endorsing candidates as part of their Co-ops Vote activities, LaTour says.

“We’ve stressed the nonpartisan nature of this from the get-go,” she says.

While worker-owned co-ops may have different interests and priorities than electric co-ops, that makes no difference in a program like Co-ops Vote, Connor says.

'Opportunities for collaboration'

Some of the NCBA members have come up with unique ways to encourage community members to vote, LaTour says.

Food co-ops have created a QR code that their customers can scan to find out if they’re registered to vote and get information on how to register if they’re not. And worker-owned taxi co-ops are offering to drive people to the polls for free.

NCBA members will be able to earn special status as an “evergreen co-op” when they engage in at least seven activities that promote democratic participation in their communities. The program is similar to NRECA’s 5-Star program, but it adds a couple of requirements in honor of the seven cooperative principles.

One of the ways that NCBA members can earn points is to work with co-ops in other sectors, LaTour says.

“A housing co-op could work with an electric co-op,” she says. “There are all kinds of opportunities for collaboration.”

Co-ops’ enthusiasm for voter registration and engagement reflects their democratic nature as member-run businesses, LaTour says.

“Co-ops are like democratic institution powerhouses,” she says.

That reputation helps co-ops make a strong impression on Capitol Hill and in statehouses and city halls, Connor says.

“Any trade association can say their members are active,” he says. “As electric cooperatives, our members really are active and engaged. They really do care. Maybe that’s why Co-ops Vote has attracted attention from co-ops in other sectors—because it works.”