How to Host a Voter Drive with Your Coffee Company

Read what Monorail Espresso has to say about the importance of cafés in the voting process, and how you can set up a drive yourself before the election!


Cover photo by Tiffany Tertipes; other photos courtesy of Monorail Coffee

In the United States, voluntary voting over mandated voting is applauded. However, in recent years it has resulted in low voter turnout, with results representative of only a small portion of the United States that is eligible to cast their ballots. According to an article by the Pew Research Center, close to 56% of the U.S. voting-age population cast ballots in the 2016 presidential election. In this same election, skewed voting also resulted in a complex outcome because of this political system, in which the popular vote differed from the electoral college. With many factors at play for this year’s upcoming political election (November 3), the need to A. be registered and B. cast your ballot is one of the most crucial duties for an American citizen to uphold. Monorail Espresso in Seattle has taken it upon themselves to hold several voter registration drives leading up to the election, including one on October 14 from 12 to 4 p.m. at their Westlake location—and so can you!

Aimee, the current owner of Monorail Espresso, at one of the voter drives.

Monorail Espresso, a notoriously politically outspoken café, has been hosting voter registration drives at two of their locations since the primary elections earlier this year. The café has been around since 1980, and they even bring out their old-school espresso cart (built by Kent Bakke and John Blackwell of La Marzocco in the ’70s) for it. They encourage any passersby to sign up to vote.

“We are excited about voting this year because there is so much potential for change and it’s something that our country deeply needs,” says Jessica Aase, brand manager at Monorail. “We’ve been putting in the work to make sure anyone that visits Monorail or anyone that passes by knows that their vote matters, and it’s been exciting signing people up that have never voted before.”

Monorail shows that you can still host in-person voter drives while maintaining social distancing guidelines.

Regardless of whether or not you participate in politics, coffee companies should still be a part of encouraging their communities to take action. Coffee shops have undoubtedly been affected by this year’s current events, and their place in the election has importance in this country. “This year has been hard for Monorail as we’ve been deeply impacted by the effects of COVID, the smoke from the wildfires, and all of the craziness of 2020,” says Jessica. “It’s clear that changes need to be made in our country and civic participation is essential to making those changes.”

The best way for coffee brands to be involved in a nonpartisan way is to host a voter registration drive. All it takes is a few volunteers and a knowledge of the simple guidelines for your area, which can be found on National Voter Registration Day’s page. Here are a few tips to consider while you and your coffee company brainstorm how to get involved.

Monorail has always been politically active in its 40 years of existence, and they’re continuing today.

Know when the deadlines are. Many states’ voter registration deadlines are as close as 15 days before election day. Colorado, Nevada, Connecticut, New Hampshire, Vermont, Washington, Montana, Minnesota, and Maine allow registration on election day as long as it’s in person. North Dakota doesn’t have voter registration; voters simply show up to the polls with an ID and proof of residence in hand. For many who are discouraged by how close it already is to election day, it is helpful to know what your state’s deadlines are for all mail, online, and in-person voting. You can check your state’s info here.

Restricted by COVID? Host a virtual drive. It’s kind of like a fundraising drive. Get some volunteers on the phone and reach out to community members. Or, you can utilize the features of your company’s social media platforms like live Stories and Status Updates. Dedicate a few hours every day to publishing content that is solely committed to voter registration information, and sharing content by followers who register during this time. Rock the Vote has guides on virtual drives if you sign up for free with them. You can even utilize QR codes to minimize direct contact. “If hosting a voter registration drive isn’t possible, we also recommend providing QR codes that direct users to nonpartisan websites to sign up or check their voter status,” advises Jessica. “We posted QR codes in our window to direct people to”

Do not bribe people with incentives to vote. As a business, it may make sense to offer discounts on coffee to vote, or give away merch. However, it is federally illegal to do so by law 18 U.S.C. §597, as it is considered vote buying. You can still add a personal flair to your voter registration drive by creating drinks on your menu that reflect the occasion, or offer custom blends for each candidate. In 2018, Indigo Coffee created an “Obama blend,” which included beans sourced from Kenya and Hawaii—reflective of the former President’s background. On Election Day, Wonderstate Coffee in Milwaukee will be giving away free coffee regardless of your registration status.

However you choose to take part in the voting process, we hope you find a way to get your community involved too!

About Katrina Yentch 221 Articles
Katrina Yentch (she/her) is a freelance writer and Barista Magazine's Online Editor. When she's not writing, you can find her napping, cooking, and drinking whatever's on drip.