Social Workers Have Important Role to Play in Voting

By Kathryn Conley Wehrmann, PhD, LCSW

Kathryn Conley Wehrmann, PhD, LCSW

You've got to vote, vote, vote, vote. That's it. That's the way we move forward. That's how we make progress for ourselves and for our country. — Former first lady Michelle Obama

Many of us have lamented that we are forced to do more with less, that resources are growing scarce, and that policymakers are not attentive to the needs of vulnerable citizens.

And, while no one would challenge the fact that needed resources are often difficult to access, we need to consider that we may be underutilizing an existing resource that could make a tremendous difference in the lives of our consumers and of our communities — voting.

As social workers, we have an important role to play in voting. Not only do we, ourselves, need to exercise our own right to express our political opinion but we need to get out the vote. Luckily, we have some excellent resources to help us accomplish this task.

One of the most powerful tools we have in shaping the quality of life in our communities is the vote. When people and communities vote, they are shown to be better off on indicators of health, mental health and employment. People and communities who vote are the ones who get more attention and more resources from elected officials

Shouldn't we as social workers invest in efforts to strengthen the capacity of the people we serve and the communities we live in to vote? Shouldn't we do all we can to support the genuine potential and power of our consumers and communities by taking a strengths-based approach and help to develop that potential?

NASW is supporting two very important initiatives that are intended to generate greater participation in our electoral process: The National Social Worker Voter Mobilization Campaign and Rock the Vote.

The National Social Worker Voter Mobilization Campaign took shape under the leadership of NASW past President Terry Mizrahi and her Hunter College colleague and campaign co-chair, Mimi Abramovitz, along with Tanya Rhodes Smith, director of the Nancy Humphries Institute for Political Social Work; and Beth Lewis, director of field education for the Graduate School of Social Work and Social Research at Bryn Mawr College.

The Voting is Social Work website associated with the campaign was launched in 2016. When you visit the site, you will find clear guidance on activities that you can become involved in as practicing social workers and social work educators.

The website offers many incredibly important steps we can take in supporting people to vote. As practitioners, we can ask clients if they are registered to vote, or need to update their voter registration. We can offer assistance to help them check on whether their voter registration is current, and we can help consumers locate their polling place.

Another way we can empower our consumers is by helping them connect with their elected officials via candidate forums or websites to gather information about candidates. We can also take part in educating our communities on felony voting rights in their states.

Finally, we can actually help people get to the polls on Election Day. There are many other ideas on how you can help empower consumers and communities on the website.

And speaking of empowerment, did you know that four million Americans are turning 18 this year? Their participation in civic life can be a critical force in deciding the direction of our communities and our country in the coming years.

Not surprisingly, NASW is partnering with Rock the Vote to engage and encourage the participation of millennials in the electoral process. Rock the Vote is a great resource for joining voter registration drives at the state and local levels.

This initiative often collaborates with other voter mobilization organizations in a given region. If you work with BSW and MSW students who would like to get involved with voter registration drives on campus, Rock the Vote is a great resource.

If you would like to participate in a Rock the Vote registration drive or related activity, you can do so by locating events listed on the website. If an NASW chapter wants to partner with Rock the Vote at the state level, the chapter should contact the Office of Civic Engagement located in Washington, D.C.

Please remember that the efforts suggested on the websites are not intended to be partisan or political — they are meant to be empowering and nonpartisan and very much in keeping with our Code of Ethics.

As we carry out our efforts to get people registered to vote, we should remember to not focus solely on presidential and congressional elections, but also state and local elections — as the latter have a huge influence over our daily lives and those of our clients.

If all of us got involved in voter registration efforts, we could make a huge difference in helping many more voices be heard. Let's get going and put our professional values into action.

Every election is determined by the people who show up. political scientist and analyst Larry J. Sabato

Contact Kathryn Wehrmann at