A new report from NonProfit VOTE shows the incredible impact non-profit service providers can have on voter registration and turnout. Under a program called Track the Vote, Nonprofit VOTE tracked 33,741 individuals who had registered to vote or signed a pledge to vote at 94 nonprofit service providers. The nonprofits included community health centers, family service agencies, multi-service organizations, and community development groups across seven states. The findings are significant:
This study shows that with targeted outreach and follow up communities with historically low rates of voter participation can be brought into the electoral process. Nonprofit service providers may be particularly well suited to voter outreach because of the level of contact and interaction they have with clients and communities. These nonprofits also disproportionately reach low-income communities and communities of color with historically lower voter participation rates. Research has shown that personal contact from a person or known entity is the most powerful factor in voter mobilization, especially for those that are less likely to participate and vote.
The need to bring more low-income voters and voters of color into our electoral system has long been recognized. Section 7 of the National Voter Registration Act requires that public assistance agencies provide voter registration services with the express intent of helping low-income eligible voters register to vote. After a period of poor enforcement, Demos and our partners have worked with states through cooperative work and litigation to increase compliance with Section 7. As a result, since 2007 nearly 2 million eligible voters have registered at public assistance offices.
The reason voter participation rates among low-income populations must be increased is that our elections and policy priorities are currently dominated by wealthy and affluent interests. As we highlighted in Stacked Deck, “the preferences of people in the bottom third of the income distribution have no apparent impact on the behavior of their elected officials.” Increasing voter participation among low-income communities and communities of color brings more voices into our political system and will begin to put pressure on elected officials—who need votes to get re-elected-- to listen to interests other than those of the affluent.
Increasing voter participation among low-income populations and communities of color is good for our politics and good for our democracy.