People who went through security at Hangout Music Festival, may be confronted by an unexpected question: “Are you registered to vote?”
The question is being asked by a volunteer for HeadCount, a national, nonpartisan non-profit that attends concerts, music festivals and other cultural events to register voters. The aim is to get more people ready to vote.
“It’s like dinner conversation. Political dinner conversations are so shunned,” Lindsay Berberich, partnerships and marketing manager at HeadCount, said. “We’re all at the same festival, so we all have that in common. It’s about education. There’s not enough education.”
Since HeadCount started coming to Hangout Fest in 2012, the organization has engaged more than 2,800 festivalgoers, either getting them registered to vote or having them check and maybe update their registration.
At last year’s festival, HeadCount engaged over 700 attendees. This year, their goal is to contact 500 attendees, though Berberich says her personal goal is much higher.
Nationwide, voters 18-29 tend to be less engaged than older voters, so HeadCount focuses on those voters. But Berberich says there are many older people that they encounter, who don’t realize their registration needs to be updated until after they talk with HeadCount.
“So many people will check and say, ‘Oh wait, this isn’t my right address.’ Or, ‘I’m in college,’ and things like that,” Berberich said. “A lot of people just don’t know, so that’s why it’s nice to be where the people are.”
And checking your registration automatically signs an attendee up for alerts from HeadCount, which reminds people when it’s time to register for a mail-in ballot, when local elections are happening and other voting needs.
Normally, Berberich says that attendees’ engagement with the nonprofit is lower in years where there isn’t a midterm election or presidential election, but so far this year, she says engagement remains high.
“Usually there’s a bit of a lull until a presidential election year, but we’ve had so many people coming by,” Berberich says. “Voting local is just as important as voting in a presidential election.”
Volunteers with HeadCount get to attend the festival or concert for free, which is an added bonus. Competition is stiff to apply to be a volunteer.
But for Hannah Friess, a volunteer and resident of Foley, registering voters in her home state is more meaningful than a free concert. She volunteered at last year’s festival as well.
“It’s kind of fun to do something in my own backyard that affects us nationally,” Friess said. “Every vote counts.”
That’s doesn’t mean that she wasn’t excited about seeing Paramore.
Friess says that, though sometimes Hangout attendees aren’t interested in engaging with Headcount, because of the festival’s laid-back vibe, it’s easier to approach people and start talking to them.
But her favorite part of the volunteering is getting to know the other volunteers and bonding with them, she says.
In addition to Hangout Fest, HeadCount will be at Lollapalooza in Chicago, Bonnaroo in Tennessee and Governor’s Ball in New York.
Locally, the group has partnered with Dave Matthews Band, which is coming to Orange Beach’s The Wharf Amphitheater in July. Friess says she’s hoping to volunteer at that festival too.
For ongoing festival coverage, visit www.al.com/hangout.