As part of the National Housing Week of Action, please include voter registration in your events. Reach out to your neighbors and allies to make sure they are registered voters, so that everyone is ready to send Congress a message in the next election. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org to let us know you're taking part!
Public Housing Agencies and other developers or managers of federally subsidized homes are uniquely situated to help in this effort because voters register using their residential address.
REGISTERING VOTERS: BEFORE YOU START
Before your organization begins to register voters, you will want to prepare in several ways:
Setting goals for both registration and mobilization can be an important part of your plan. The staff and volunteers involved in the project will have something to work towards, and you will have a way to evaluate your project after the election. The plan provides a framework for setting these goals.
GET TO KNOW YOUR LOCAL BOARD OF ELECTIONS
Your local Board of Elections or County Clerk can be a wealth of information as you plan to register low income renters to vote. You will want to check in with them to learn the registration deadline for the general election in your state. Ask whether anyone can register voters in your state, or whether a person must first become deputized or meet other requirements. Request the voter rolls for your community, so you will know who in your target audience is already registered. Learn about identification requirements for registration and voting. Request enough voter registration forms to meet your registration goals. In many places, the role of the Board of Elections will be conducted out of the office of the County or City Clerk. Please contact NLIHC if you need help determining who the best local authority is for your organization.
OFFER REGISTRATION TRAININGS
Residents and staff who plan to register voters will often benefit from receiving training on the process. You may want to bring in someone from the local Board of Elections who can explain the state’s registration requirements and how voter registration forms must be filled out. It can also help to spend a bit of time role playing so that people who are registering voters are not discouraged when confronted with apathy. It is also helpful to practice voter registration updates for renters who have recently moved.
Once you know the voting guidelines for your state and have set registration goals for your agency, you are ready to begin registering voters. As described in the sample plan, there are four ways to approach voter registration.
FIT VOTER REGISTRATION INTO YOUR AGENCY'S REGULAR CONTACT WITH RESIDENTS
The first option is to incorporate registration into day-to-day activities that already take place at your agency. Registration can usually be incorporated with few resources and little hassle into the intake process, training sessions, resident association meetings, and any other meetings of clients. If you operate rental housing, always provide a voter registration form with a new lease so that a resident can update their registration with a new address.
PLAN SPECIFIC VOTER REGISTRATION ACTIVITIES
A second way to think about registration at your agency is to plan special registration activities or campaigns. Many organizations have had success holding social or other events at which residents are encouraged to register to vote.
ORGANIZE A DOOR-TO-DOOR CAMPAIGN
The third, and most effective, way for larger organizations to systematically register clients is through a door-to-door campaign. If your agency is a housing provider or a resident council, such a campaign can be especially effective. In particular, resident leaders can volunteer to receive training and serve as ‘building captains’ or ‘floor captains.’ Captains can take on responsibility for registering, keeping registration records, and then turning out, all of the people in their building or on their floor, etc. Such a system can be a great way to get residents or clients involved while ensuring that staff does not become overwhelmed with additional responsibilities. The key is to have personal and organized contact with potential voters by people they know or trust. Especially in this type of campaign, you will want to use the voter list from your county to see who in your buildings is already registered or whose registration needs updating. Voter lists may cost a small fee, but they are essential for tracking who is already registered.
GO INTO THE COMMUNITY
Finally, especially if you have a smaller membership or client base, you may also want to think about having your volunteers reach out into the community to register other low income, homeless or underrepresented people. Consider staffing voter registration and information tables at community events. Also, make sure to promote your voter registration efforts through your website and other social media platforms. And do not forget to make sure everyone on the staff and board is registered!
It is crucial to have a plan for how you will keep a record of who you have registered to vote—as well as who is already registered—so that you will be able to contact these people as part of your mobilization activities. You will be able to compile a list of which of your residents are already registered from the voter rolls you acquire from your local Board of Elections.
For new registrants, there are two ways to collect this information. One easy way, if allowed by the laws in your state, is to collect voter registration forms from new registrants, then photocopy the forms before mailing them in. (Note: Some states require forms to be returned within a specific number of days after they have been completed.) This also allows you to review and catch mistakes before a form is submitted. You may also ask registrants to fill out two-part pledge cards. They will keep the half of the card that reminds them of their pledge to vote; you will keep the half with their contact information.
ENTER THE INFORMATION INTO A DATABASE
Once you have collected voters’ information, it is important to enter it into a database so the data can be easily accessed for mobilization purposes.
Nonprofit organizations can, and should, engage in nonpartisan election-related activity, including voter registration, education, and mobilization. The basic rule is that 501(c)(3) organizations cannot in any way support or oppose particular candidates. For detailed legal guidance, you may want to consult:
Nonprofit VOTE, www.nonprofitvote.org
Specifically, read their comprehensive guide on what nonprofits can and cannot do: Nonprofits, Voting & Elections.
Alliance for Justice, www.afj.org
Through the Bolder Advocacy campaign, AFJ works to ensure nonprofit groups are aware of rules governing campaign involvement. Review their materials and register for their webinars at www.bolderadvocacy.org.
League of Women Voters, www.vote411.org
The League offers Vote411.org, an online resource providing nonpartisan information to the public, with both general and state-specific information on all aspects of the election process. An important component of Vote411.org is the polling place locator, which enables users to type in their address and retrieve the polling location for the voting precinct in which that address is located.
Internal Revenue Service, www.irs.gov
The IRS offers guidance on what activities are not permissible for various types of foundations, organizations, and private charities. Find more information at http://bit.ly/1ev87z2.
Public housing agencies are often under the impression that they are not able to register residents to vote. That is not the case; in fact, HUD issued a Notice (FR-3968-N-01) in 1996 that encouraged housing agencies, Indian housing authorities, and resident management companies to become involved in voter registration activities.
Organizations with specific legal questions related to voter registration drives are encouraged to contact an attorney who specializes in election law. It is important to remember that 501(c)(3) organizations cannot consult with campaign staff or political parties, even on simple technical questions.