Councilmember Kshama Sawant (District 3, Central Seattle) introduced a bill to require that landlords include a voter registration form and voter registration information among the required documents provided to all new tenants in Seattle.
Seattle’s voters need to update their registration every time they move to participate in Washington’s vote-by-mail system. Renters move more frequently than homeowners, and studies show that renters are less likely to be registered to vote than homeowners. This bill will provide renters with the tools they need to re-register, or register for the first time.
“In a system that is overwhelmingly stacked against us, working class people, young people, and communities of color are routinely disenfranchised. This is especially true of Seattle’s renters, who are increasingly being uprooted by skyrocketing rents, and forced to re-register to vote every time they move. This legislation will take one step toward helping working people fight for their rights, including for rent control,” said Councilmember Sawant.
“The tenants who reach out to us face regular displacement, sometimes as often as every few months. These moves are disruptive to all areas of life, and regularly updating voter registrations is a challenge. Including these forms with the packet already mandated at the start each new tenancy is a small but significant way of facilitating community involvement and civic engagement for renters, who make up the majority of the city’s residents,” said Hana Aličić from the Tenants’ Union of Washington State.
“Renters make up 80% of people living in my neighborhood, Capitol Hill. We end up moving more frequently to keep up with rising rents, which can make it hard to remember to maintain an up-to-date voter registration. Today’s legislation will bring access to those whose voices we so often exclude from our political and civic process. This is the right move for renters, for our city, and our democracy,” said Zachary DeWolf from the Capitol Hill Community Council.
“Nearly every tenant that we work with wants to be engaged one way or another, but many simply don’t have the time or resources to register to vote. Giving them the option to register upon move-in will remove that barrier and provide every Seattle renter with the opportunity to shape our city,” said Devin Silvernail from Be:Seattle.
“At the Washington Bus we are consistently trying to find more opportunities to lower the barriers to access in our democratic process. Studies show that voting is a habit — meaning those that vote from one address consistently over time tend to get contacted more frequently by campaigns and candidates, and thus are reminded to vote more often. As an organization of young people, by young people, for all people we know that young people, low income communities, and communities of color often rent and change addresses at higher rates than older, wealthier demographics. By requiring landlords to provide voter registration opportunities upon move-in, we can make our local elections and local representation much more inclusive and more accurately reflect our local population. Over the last 10 years, we’ve registered over 52,000 people to vote — and a significant number of those were due to a change in address. This is a small, but significant step towards making the voting process easier for thousands of residents across the City,” said Emilio Garza from The Washington Bus.
“LGBTQ low-income communities have high rates of displacement in Seattle and therefore move around a lot. Often LGBTQ renters have not updated their voter registration, making it more difficult to express their voice in elections. This ordinance is a great solution to ensuring LGBTQ renter’s voices are still participating in our electoral system,” said Debbie Carlsen from LGBTQ Allyship.
“APACEvotes believes this new ordinance will make voter registration more accessible and convenient for refugees, immigrants, People of Color, and working folks living on limited-incomes who are disproportionately impacted by rising rents and the need to move more frequently. One of the biggest barriers to civic engagement that our community faces is the need for translated voter materials in Limited-English-Proficiency homes. This new rule would provide voter registration forms and information to all new tenants in the appropriate translated languages available. This is an exciting opportunity for our city to ensure more voices are represented in the democratic process,” said Christina Reiko Shimizu from Asian Pacific Islander Americans for Civic Empowerment Votes (APACEvotes).
Sawant’s legislation will be discussed in the Energy and Environment Committee on June 13 at 2:00 p.m.