For renters in Seattle, it just got easier to register to vote—or at least, easier to find out how to do it.
In a 6-0 vote, Seattle council members on Monday approved legislation that would require landlords to provide information on voter registration and a registration form to new tenants. (Council members Lorena González, Tim Burgess, and Mike O'Brien were absent.) The ordinance will be effective 30 days after mayor Ed Murray signs it.
Council member Kshama Sawant, who sponsored the bill, said the legislation "is one part of addressing the statistical disenfranchisement" among renters who are more likely to be low-income, younger people, and people of color. According to 2014 U.S. Census data, only 21 percent of renters who lived in their homes for less than a year voted. That statistic rose to 41 percent among renters who lived in their homes for more than five years in 2014.
"Today's legislation gives us easy and convenient access to voter information as we are so often excluded from the political and civic process," said Zachary DeWolf, president of the Capitol Hill Community Council, who worked with Sawant to bring the bill forward.
The Seattle Department of Construction and Inspections will be responsible for providing the information and voter registration form in a packet that's already distributed to landlords, according to the summary and fiscal note, there would be "minor costs" associated with providing some landlords hard copies.
And council members Debora Juarez and González introduced a new amendment Monday that directs the SDCI also work with King County Elections to find ways to track voter registrations from the ordinance—like a unique web address or a customized voter registration form, to evaluate the ordinance's impact.
The Rental Housing Association of Washington in a statement on Friday said the organization wants the council to expand its requirements to all Seattle citizens—citing that homeowners' voter registration is "far less than 100 percent"—"not just those who have the privilege of signing a rental agreement."
"One group of citizens should not be prioritized over another, which is why RHAWA calls on City Council to more thoughtfully enhance its voter registration legislation to include all citizens of our city, and to be a fair and willing partner with landlords by acknowledging that it, too, can play a role in enhancing the functioning of our democracy," the statement read.
Penalties for landlords who don't comply include allowing the tenant to terminate the rental agreement; and deliberately failing to comply with the requirement could lead to a fine of up to $1,000 in a civil action.