Promote the Vote: Positioning Social Workers for Action asserts that supporting political participation is integral to social work practice.
The publication of a new book by Sunny Harris Rome, a professor in the Department of Social Work, comes at a critical time when voting rights are at risk in Virginia and around the nation. Her book details why social workers should be invested in promoting voter participation in the United States and how to support civic participation, particularly among low-turnout groups.
Promote the Vote: Positioning Social Workers for Action is the first social work textbook with a sole focus on voting. It asserts that empowering underrepresented communities to participate in the American political process is integral to social work practice.
“Engaging in voter education and mobilization is a great way for us as social workers to translate into action our commitment to social and economic justice,” says Rome, emphasizing the importance of her book’s timely publication. “We [as social workers] have an ethical mandate to be involved in social and political action and to involve others.”
The book lays out many of the current social and economic realities that define the United States in 2022. These include gun violence, hate crimes, and racial injustice, in addition to voter suppression and intimidation.
Furthermore, Promote the Vote, provides a brief history of voting right in the U.S. This section discusses key policies that expanded voting rights as well as setbacks that kept populations such as African Americans and women from the polls.
Connecting history to the present, Rome dedicates another section to current voting patterns and trends in the U.S. This chapter reveals that despite increased voter turnout in recent elections, huge disparities remain. Rome explores different theories to explain what motivates people to vote and how various characteristics such as political party affiliation, race, income, geography, and more influence the way an individual votes.
Additionally, Rome’s book offers research findings, practical information, and case examples from her own students on expanding civic participation. For example, a Master of Social Work student created informational flyers in English and Spanish on voting for an agency serving people in poverty. The flyers were included in about 6,000 food baskets distributed to low-income households throughout Washington, D.C.
Another one of Rome’s students, who worked at an adult detention center in Virginia, developed a workshop about voting rights for people who are incarcerated. Through this, many of the men at the detention center became aware of their eligibility.
The many real-world examples in the book illustrate the countless ways one can support equal participation in the voting process. Furthermore, Rome notes that another important strategy is to advocate for more voter-friendly policies.
“I believe we are in a moment of crisis. We are at a historical crossroads,” Rome says. “And the only way forward is to push back against voter suppression. Now more than ever, it’s really important that we all get involved.”
Rome notes there’s a long list of marginalized groups that remain underrepresented at the polls including people of color, people with disabilities, immigrants, those experiencing homelessness, LGBTQ+ people—particularly those who are transgender—and survivors of domestic violence. Since members of these groups are often social work clients, her book devotes a section to understanding their unique challenges as voters and suggests actionable solutions.
“Research shows that people who vote have better health and mental health outcomes,” says Rome about the positive impact of civic participation. “Communities are more cohesive. They experience less crime. Voter participation strengthens both individuals and communities.”