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City Council passes ordinance to encourage updated voter registration for renters

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Landlords will be required to provide renters with voter registration information

Stephen Brashear/Getty Images

An ordinance passed by the Seattle City Council on Monday will require landlords to include voter registration information in their move-in packets.

Here’s how it works: When renters move into a new place, landlords are already required to give them a stack of papers, prepared by the Seattle Department of Construction and Inspections (SDCI), that outlines their rights as tenants. The ordinance would just add the voting information to that pile.

According to a summary by City Council staff, only 21 percent of those who have lived in their current residence for less than a year reported voting. (Typically, November election turnout is between 50 and 75 percent, although it varies depending on the type of election.)

Washington State is all vote-by-mail, so for someone without an updated mailing address with their voter registration, it complicates getting a ballot in the first place.

The ordinance was first proposed earlier this month by City Councilor Kshama Sawant, who worked with various community groups, including the Tenants’ Union, Capitol Hill Community Council, Be: Seattle, LGBTQ Allyship, and Asian Pacific Islander Americans for Civic Empowerment (APACE) Votes.

APACE Votes’s Christina Reiko Shimizu in a statement at the time that one of the “biggest barriers to civic engagement” the Asian/Pacific Islander community in Seattle faces is lack of translated voter materials. “This new rule would provide voter registration forms and information to all new tenants in the appropriate translated languages available,” she explained.

In the same release, Hana Aličić of the Tenants’ Union said folks who come to them “face regular displacement, sometimes as often as every few months.”

Because frequent moves are so disruptive, said Aličić, “regularly updating voter registrations is a challenge.”

Not as enthusiastic about the ordinance was the Rental Housing Association of Washington. Although they said they’re not opposed to the measure, they said in a statement that it prioritizes one group of citizens over another, and that the City Council should “broaden the scope” to include homeowners who have recently moved.

At the time the ordinance was proposed, their response was a little more frustrated. “How many more pieces of paper will Seattle require landlords to give renters?” the organization tweeted. “Will notebooks be provided?”

The ordinance takes effect 30 days after being signed by the mayor.