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How four Midwest women-owned businesses launched a nationwide voting initiative

October 16, 2020, 1:02 PM UTC

Betsy Blancett Nacrelli​ knew how she wanted to use her platform this election year. The founder and CEO of Joya, a St. Louis–based jewelry shop, was already donating 10% of her sales to nonprofits that improve women’s lives, and she felt getting women to vote was a natural extension of that mission. So Nacrelli teamed up with three other women-run businesses—Golden Gems, Leisa Renae, and 2Lu—to form She Votes, a campaign that provides resources and information about the voting process with the ultimate goal of getting more women to the voting booths by Nov. 3.

Prior to Missouri’s voter registration deadline, the organization focused on registering first-time voters, especially at high schools. Now, they are spending their time helping people cast their ballots by running about a dozen ballot notarizing tents per week. Missouri changed its voting guidelines this year in response to the coronavirus pandemic, and Nacrelli says that many people they met were simply confused about how to follow the law.

“One of the most important things that we’ve provided for people is a very comfortable, nonjudgmental place for people to ask questions,” she says.

She Votes also has a line of voting-themed merchandise featuring shirts, hats, accessories, and, of course, jewelry, with proceeds benefiting three nonprofits. Nacrelli expects they’ll be able to donate more than $10,000 by the end of the year.

The following conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Fortune: How did She Votes come together?

Nacrelli: We’re always stronger together with partners, especially women-owned businesses. I feel like we can accomplish so much when we work together. So I reached out to several friends in the local business community: people who we have worked with in the past; people who we value; people whose designs we love, as well as their dedication and passion for their business. Everyone unanimously, immediately [said yes]. We started having meetings on Wednesday evenings to brainstorm and come up with ideas around the initiative, and it kind of just took off from there. It turned into something beyond my wildest dreams as far as the support, the branding, the product, and everything. It’s been an amazing journey for sure.

As with everything in the advent of COVID, so much of our world feels beyond our control. It was very important for us to try to effect change or amplify women’s voices in whatever way that we could knowing that there’s so much beyond our control in this world. After learning so much about voter suppression and voting rights, we [wanted to] try to do what we could.

She Votes is decidedly nonpartisan. Why was that distinction important to you?

Everything seems so partisan right now; everything seems so polarized. Women are the majority in this country. And if women vote and show up to exercise their right that other women worked so hard to gain over 100 years ago, we can be the change, and we can decide who’s in office. Women need to continue to be empowered to amplify their voices and raise their voices, and it’s about time that we’re in the driver’s seat. We just wanted to make sure that all women knew the power that we have if all of our voices are used together.

You are located in a state that is not considered a swing state. FiveThirtyEight gives Missouri a very small percentage chance of not going for Trump. Many people get really discouraged when they feel like their vote doesn’t count. How have you approached that being from a state that’s pretty much already decided?

That’s the root of the problem. It’s very, very easy for folks to look at the voting process and feel discouraged and look at the electoral college and feel discouraged and confused. In our state of Missouri, it is intentionally made very difficult to vote and to learn about the process of voting. The easy thing to do is to say, “My vote doesn’t matter, and I’m going to stay home.” The difficult decision to make as an individual is [deciding] that I’m going to get up and stand up and learn about the process and at least cast my vote. It takes millions of people to effect change, but if all of us are in the mindset that our vote doesn’t matter, then nothing is going to ever change. We proved in the last two election cycles that it comes down to a very small number that really can make that change.

We’re not talking just about a presidential election here. It is equally as important to vote in every election, in every primary, and for your local and state elections because you’re voting for your local municipality changes. You’re also voting for people there that are going to climb that political ladder. Those decisions mean just as much as a presidential election does.

I’ve been encouraged by the number of young people that I’ve seen getting behind all of the voting initiatives. I’ve been encouraged by the various ways that people are approaching it, especially these new generations. So much of what their focus is is on social media. One of the things that was important to us [is having] really fun merchandise that people want to post and tag. It all starts from that one little seed, and it spreads from there.

Courtesy of She Votes

We are a national organization. Even though we’re based in St. Louis, and a lot of our in-person pop-ups are in St. Louis—[like our] big voter registration drive and now our big voter notarizing ballot drive—we have clients and followers from all over the country. For us, that’s been the most encouraging thing. If our little initiative and our little engine-that-could group of women businesses can reach 50 states in two short months, imagine what voices can do at the polls if everyone exercises their right.

What are you planning on doing after the election?

Our initiative will continue. It’s been so much hard work because we all own small businesses, and we basically started another business, another full-time job in the middle of a pandemic. But we’ve felt so much reward from starting this, and we have so enjoyed working together that our initiatives are going to continue. We plan to very quickly pivot to other local and state elections that will be going on regularly.

We really want to make sure we throw our voice behind amplifying women’s voices in all capacities, so we are going to be working with a lot of local and national women’s organizations. We already have some partnerships lined up for post-election. One of the crises that we’re facing right now as a nation is a lot of women are being forced to leave the workplace and leave their careers to stay home with their kids through the pandemic. There is a very scary number of women doing that. A couple of local organizations are working to provide childcare and other alternatives for women to be able to continue their careers in the middle of the pandemic. So we’re going to work with those organizations. We’re also going to be working a lot with victims of domestic violence and getting them reintegrated into the workforce providing mock interviews and teaching modules. And we’re going to be working with other small-business owners who are women and help to build their brands, get them funding, and make those connections with banks and accountants and partners that can help them get their businesses off the ground.

I envision that She Votes will turn a focus on amplifying those voices and empowering women through various different channels.

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