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From Festivals to Ballot Boxes: Voter Registration Hits a High Note Ahead of Midterm Elections

This November's midterm elections are promising to be the most competitive in decades, as Democrats fight to take the House under Donald Trump's presidency. This has musicians looking to get involved…

This November’s midterm elections are promising to be the most competitive in decades, as Democrats fight to take the House under Donald Trump‘s presidency. This has musicians looking to get involved at an “unprecedented” level, says HeadCount executive director Andy Bernstein.

“There is an energy that hasn’t been there for every midterm election,” Bernstein says, noting nearly daily outreach from bands and media partners wanting to make an impact. “I’ve never seen anything like this.”

This year, HeadCount will register voters at over 1,000 live music events including nearly 50 festivals and tours by Beyoncé & JAY-ZDead & Co.Panic! At the Disco and the Vans Warped Tour, which has been the 15-year-old nonpartisan nonprofit’s most successful outreach effort of the past three years, with 3,577 voters registered over 37 dates. It has also launched a new digital ad campaign called “The Future Is Voting,” produced pro bono by Anomaly/ACE Content, that will include short film elements, social engagement with hundreds of entertainers and more.

Similarly, Pepe Aguilar has teamed with Voto Latino to bring the organization along on his Jaripo Sin Fronteras family tour with on-site voter registration and a series of promotional videos and messages encouraging his fans’ civic engagement. That Aguilar’s tour will cross generations, says Voto Latino COO Jessica Reeves, makes it especially appealing, noting when Latinos are registered to vote that roughly 80 percent will cast ballots — higher than any other demographic.

“We can’t see the society we want if we do nothing,” says Aguilar. “In this moment, it is the obligation of Latinos to connect with their roots, remember their culture, remember where they come from, teach the pride they feel for their grandparents, parents and traditions. Will we let these times take everything away? Hell no!”


No strangers to activism, Pearl Jam has turned its sold-out Aug. 13 show in Missoula, Montana into a vehicle for political empowerment. Dubbing the event “Rock2Vote,” the band has partnered with four local progressive nonprofits to promote the importance of voting and mobilizing fans around the midterm elections in bassist Jeff Ament‘s home state.

“It’s important to remind people that to have an opinion about any of this stuff you actually have to have a hand in it,” says Ament. “A lot is at stake right now. I think all Montanans believe in access to public lands, clean air and water, and want to protect the places we love to hike, hunt and fish. Voting is the best way to protect this part of Montana’s heritage.”

With HeadCount now over a decade old — along with Voto Latino and other music-engaging voting nonprofits such as Rock the Vote and The Hip Hop Caucus — Bernstein says the focus is shifting towards reaching potential voters beyond the bounds of concerts and festivals. He notes the organization’s partnership with March For Our Lives earlier this year and its new guides to running voter registration drives at high schools as examples.

“What we’re doing now,” he says, “is taking all the positive energy that’s out there in the music world and trying to spread it beyond.”

This article originally appeared in the Aug. 11 issue of Billboard.