Light areas on the map on the left show low rates of voter registration. Dark areas on the map on the right show areas of high poverty. Screenshots via KingCounty.gov

Sawant Bill Would Have Landlords Offer Voter Registration Info to Tenants

The bill aims to help renters, especially people of color, navigate Washington’s vote-by-mail system.

Councilmember Kshama Sawant today announced a bill to Seattle City Council that would add voter registration information to the documents that landlords are required to provide to to tenants. The legislation is particularly aimed at encouraging renters to vote.

“[W]orking class people, young people, and communities of color are routinely disenfranchised” as voters, Sawant said in a press release. “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.”

Renters make up about 42 percent of Seattle’s population. They tend to be poorer than homeowners, for obvious reasons. A side-by-side comparison of a map of Seattle voter registration and a map of Seattle poverty shows that affluent neighborhoods typically have high voter registration while poor neighborhoods typically have low voter registration:

You can reach the poverty map here and the voter registration map here.

Voter turnout, or lack thereof, can be a decisive factor in city elections that are sometimes won by razor-thin margins. In 2013, now-councilmember Kshama Sawant beat out incumbent Richard Conlin by 3,151 votes. In 2015, now-councilmember Lisa Herbold beat opponent Shannon Braddock by just 39 votes.

According to the press release, Sawant’s bill has support from a number of local advocacy groups. “LGBTQ low-income communities have high rates of displacement in Seattle and therefore move around a lot,” said Debbie Carlsen from LGBTQ Allyship. “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.”

Others agreed, including representatives from the Capitol Hill Community Council, the Tenants Union, Be:Seattle, and Washington Bus. Christina Reiko Shimizu of Asian Pacific Islander Americans for Civic Empowerment Votes (APACEvotes) said that “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.”

Dr. Alexes Harris and Tim Thomas, both social scientists at the University of Washington, reacted to the pair of maps displayed above:

cjaywork@seattleweekly.com

This post has been updated.

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