Could landlords improve voter registration?

September 22, 2020 by Ted Bauer

We don't mean to get political on here -- we just want to find you homes and apartments, honestly -- but with everything swirling around elections, voting, voter registration, vote-by-mail, COVID, and more ... we were intrigued by this article in Fast Company on the role of landlords in the voting process.

Here's the basic backstory:

  1. In general, as you'd probably expect, homeowners vote more than renters. In the 2018 mid-term elections, 60% of homeowners voted and 40% of renters did. 
  2. There's also an income gap; 85% of those earning over $100,000/year were registered to vote in 2018. 74% of that group did. Under $20,000/year? Only 60% of that group is registered to vote, and out of that percentage, only 38% actually do vote. 
  3. So, the Housing Providers Council (an initiative from the National Low Income Housing Coalition) is trying to work with landlords on getting voter information into the hands of new tenants. The theory goes that, on a new lease, you're sitting there filling out various paperwork anyway, so ... can't the landlord give you voting information for your new address? That might help close the gap between renters and homeowners in terms of voting turnout.
  4. "When renters don't vote, why would politicians focus on their needs?" is kind of the rallying cry here.
  5. So, this has been happening in some places already. In 2017, the Seattle City Council passed an ordinance where voter information was part of a packet from your new landlord. 
  6. There has also been some legal pushback. New York City tried to put voter information in landlord information packets, and the Real Estate Board of New York struck it down, saying "it would task owners with yet another responsibility outside their mandate." Something similar happened in St. Paul, Minnesota , where a U.S. district judge struck down a 2016 policy of landlords giving out voter information, saying the policy violated the landlord's First Amendment rights because they were being "forced to convey the city's message." Part of the fear on the landlord side has always been that it could impact their tax status or make them seem partisan to do this. 

Now, look ... you might fill out, and receive, a lot of forms when you move to a new place. So just because a form about voting is in a packet doesn't mean you will immediately go and register to vote. It's not a 1-to-1 causal action, necessarily. It could be a step to higher voter turnout, but the legal climate on the landlord side is obviously something to consider and watch as well. 

All told, it probably makes more sense to focus on DMV voter registration and drives in specific neighborhoods, but this was at the very least an interesting idea. 

Affordable housing is a big issue in DFW and beyond, and finding ways to get lower-income renters more involved in politics may adjust some of the law-making around the topic in the future. Every idea could be considered, hence this post.

About the Author

Ted Bauer

Ted Bauer is a writer/editor for White Rock Locators focused on as much cool content about the DFW Metroplex rental scene as he can possibly find week-to-week.