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Housing Action IL Voter Registration: Modest Tactic, Big Results

NLIHC state partner Housing Action Illinois and 20 other groups were awarded a small grant this summer to engage in nonpartisan voter registration ahead of the 2018 midterm elections. If each organization reaches its goal, 5,000 new Chicagoans will be registered to vote. Housing Action Illinois is focused primarily on registering low income renters and people who are homeless. Because this population less likely to vote, politicians at every level do not prioritize their needs in their campaigns. Housing Action Illinois expresses confidence their work will turn out voters this year and demonstrate that low income renters and people experiencing homelessness are an important constituency for future campaigns.

This voter registration work presented a unique challenge because Housing Action Illinois is an advocacy organization that does not provide direct services to residents, and the staff does not have daily contact with potential voters. To meet their goal of registering at least 250 low income residents, project organizers needed to find methods to directly reach potential voters and decided to rely on their biggest asset - their more than 150 partner organizations that provide direct services. These partner organizations work closely with low income renters and the homeless but do not traditionally do voter engagement.

To assess interest in registering voters and to spur action, Housing Action Illinois organizers hosted a webinar on nonpartisan voter registration. They planned to collect the information about anyone interested in voter registration for more follow up. While they invited many, they expected representatives from a modest number of partner organizations would join the webinar. But participation by a broad range of individuals and partners far exceeded their expectations.

Organizers covered a range of points and concepts specific to organizations starting a voter registration drive in Illinois on the webinar, for example:

  • That it is completely legal for organizations to help the people they serve exercise their right to vote.

  • That there are many myths about voting, and it is important to understand who can vote. For example, in Illinois voting rights are restored to justice-involved individuals who are no longer in prison.

  • That it is simple (and legal) to integrate voter registration into an organization’s day-to-day operations, like during new client intake processes.

  • That there are many ways to register and prove citizenship/residency, which is particularly important for individuals without permanent addresses.

The webinar addressed the sentiment among many nonprofits that they have a responsibility to help their clients, family, and friends have their voices heard. The session gave participants concrete tips and tools that are simple, actionable, and scalable. A small tactic that made the most difference for Housing Action Illinois’s work was a one-question survey at the end of the webinar, “Would you like to partner with Housing Action Illinois on voter registration? Yes/No/Unsure.”

After the webinar, Housing Action Illinois Stevenson Center Policy Fellow Jerome Sader individually called everyone who responded “Yes” or “Unsure.” He provided them with encouragement, technical assistance, materials, and anything else they needed during these 30-minute phone calls. Some partners already felt confident about what they were doing but wanted to stay in touch with Housing Action Illinois, while others sought guidance about how they could get started.

Through these webinars and calls, Housing Action Illinois has identified a small army of partners committed to nonpartisan voter registration. Jerome will continue to provide support, and he expresses confidence that Housing Action Illinois will exceed its goal of registering at least 250 new voters, contributing to the collective goal of 5,000.

National voter registration day is Tuesday, September 25. NLIHC’s Our Homes, Our Votes website has tools and resources to help organizations engage in nonpartisan voter registration efforts. The resources walk you through how to fit voter registration into your agency’s regular activities with residents, plan voter registration efforts, and bring voter registration drives into the communities you serve. Voter registration deadlines vary from state to state—and many are coming up soon. To find the voter registration deadlines in your state, click here:

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