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Get out the vote

Jack Brockley | Oct 16, 2019

A truck, loaded with young musicians, is decorated with a sign that reads: “Vote as you please, but vote.”

It’s the season of elections across much of North America. Canada’s election day is October 21, and in the United States, polling stations open on November 5. Kiwanians will be there, as they have been for much of the organization’s 104-year history.

Though bylaws prohibit clubs from expressing opinions or taking action regarding a candidate, legislation or other matters of political nature, Kiwanis’ Objects urge clubs “to develop, by precept and example, a more intelligent, aggressive and serviceable citizenship.” So, through the past century, members have provided transportation, volunteered at voting stations, organized meet-the-candidates events and supported the electoral process. Likely the most common effort involved get-out-the-vote campaigns.

On November 4, 1924, for example, Minnesota ballots had a three-way race for United States president, five candidates for governor and five proposed constitutional amendments. To ensure a good turnout, the Kiwanis Club of Hibbing, Minnesota, loaded up a truck with young musicians and cruised the city, proclaiming, “Vote as you please, but vote.”

In the 1950s, Kiwanis “declared an all-out war against the apathy and downright indifference of the voting public” by launching its Ballot Battalion. The campaign promoted registration and voting. The results? 

  • Rochester, New York, residents awoke on November 4, 1952, to the sounds of bells and whistles. The Kiwanis club’s “Operation Alarm Clock” reminded citizens of their duty to vote.  A plastic goose decorates a Kiwanis-Key Club booth, standing above a sign that reads, “I don’t vote. I just squawk.”
  • A 1956 Kiwanis In Action brochure reported that 223,232 North American members and supporters participated in such drives. 
  • In Lead, South Dakota, the campaign contributed to 77% of registered voters showing up at the polls — the best turnout in 30 years. 
  • Miniature handkerchief parachutes floated down from the sky over Wauchula, Florida, carrying the local Kiwanis club’s appeal to vote. 
  • The St. James, Manitoba, Kiwanis Club staged a parade with old cars carrying suffragettes, a sound truck, floats and barbershop harmonizers on election day. 
  • The Logansport, Indiana, High School Key Club and its sponsoring Kiwanis club rented an amplified speaker system and set up a booth downtown to inform passersby about an upcoming local election. On prominent display was a goose statue standing above a poster that read, “I don’t vote. I just squawk.” 

  • An Indiana eighth-grader proudly wears an “I Voted” sticker. Through the years, the electoral process has changed, but Kiwanians continue their involvement, teaching people how to use electronic voting machines and reminding them about early voting opportunities.

    In Greencastle, Indiana, Kiwanians include a voting station at its annual Reality Experience, where middle school students pass through a gauntlet of life decisions: Apartment or house? Car or truck? Large or small family? In a mock election, the teens get an opportunity to vote on a local, state or national topic or race. Participants walk away proudly wearing an “I voted” sticker. 

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