One of the reasons we encourage nonprofits to register their clients and constituents to vote is because many states are not fully compliant with the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA), which requires public agencies to register voters.
Recently, successful lawsuits in both Ohio and Missouri forced compliance and caused the number of voters registering at public agencies to balloon. In Ohio in the first six months of 2010 more than 100,000 low-income residents registered to vote at public assistance offices. That number (17,000 applications per month) is almost a ten-fold increase in the number of registration applications collected at public assistance offices before the lawsuit (1,775 per month). In Colorado, officials brought the state into compliance without a lawsuit, and as a result public agency registrations increased from just over 3,300 in 2007 to nearly 44,000 in 2010.
However, last month Project Vote and other groups filed a lawsuit in Georgia to require the state to properly implement the NVRA. The Georgia secretary of state has acknowledged that they "did not have consistent NVRA policies," because when the law first took effect, they received more than 100,000 voter registration applications, but in 2010, the number of was just 4,430. Earlier this year Project Vote and the NAACP Legal Defense Fund filed a similar suit in Louisiana.
While many states are taking care to ensure that public agencies are reaching eligible voters (or being forced to), it is still not enough. Many of the individuals who use public assistance are underrepresented and underserved, and are less likely to participate in the political process. Nonprofits can help close this gap: in addition to voter registration, your organization can also educate voters, engage candidates, and conduct get-out-the-vote activities in an effort to cultivate a robust civil society. Learn more about how your nonprofit can ensure that your community is engaged and represented!