Connecting rentership and registration can empower marginalized voters

The 2020 election is fast approaching and we’ve been sharing stories on vote-in mailing, companies giving paid leave for employees to work the polls, and even NBA arenas turning into voting locations. Today we’re sharing another incredibly simple strategy to register more Americans to vote: have landlords distribute registration paperwork. 

About 60 percent of homeowners vote, compared to just 40 percent of renters. So what if voter registration paperwork was included in a tenant’s move-in paperwork packet? Moving to a new address means updating your voter registration, and tenants are already filling out lots of paperwork to sign a new lease, so why not combine the processes? 

This idea is supported by the National Low Income Housing Coalition’s (NLIHC) initiative to register more low-income voters. The NLIHC understands that landlords are in a unique position to communicate with tenants. President of Jonathan Rose Companies and Housing Providers Council member Jonathan Rose told Fast Company, “Having a housing property with informed management that can assist residents is proven to not only be a help to getting them registered to vote but informing them on how to vote.”

Fortunately, some cities have already implemented the idea. The Seattle City Council passed a mandate in 2017 requiring that voter registration information be added to the housing law information packets that landlords were already required to give tenants. Cities like New York and St. Paul have tried to pass similar measures, but have run into legal roadblocks and opposition from landlords.

While getting individual landlords like Rose on board is great, NLIHC recognizes that voluntary commitments can only take the initiative so far. They are working to amend the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 to allow renters moving into federally subsidized housing to check a box if they would like to receive voter registration information at their new address. 

The pandemic has exacerbated already-existing barriers to voter registration. Individuals without internet access at home are having a harder time updating their voter registration information and those changing addresses may not realize they need to change their registration. Connecting voter registration and lease agreements will help ensure that more citizens, specifically those who are traditionally underrepresented in elections, have the opportunity to register and keep their information up to date as they move. 

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