Voter Registration Revisited
Did you know that 60% of eligible voters are never asked to register to vote? Couple this startling fact with many new voter registration rules that have been introduced since the 2020 election—in many instances, to make it harder to register or stay on the voter rolls—we thought it was time to revisit this topic. This year, National Voter Registration Day is September 19 so there’s no time like the present for nonprofits to develop a plan to engage in voter registration!
Our Speakers for This Episode:
Voter Registration Rules for 501(c)(3) Nonprofit Organizations (according to the Tax Code)
Yes, your nonprofit can engage in voter registration activities! When doing so, public charities must ensure they are conducted in a nonpartisan manner and in compliance with all applicable federal and state laws.
- Keep voter registration work nonpartisan
- Focus voter registration activities on community members with whom the organization serves or hopes to serve
- Focus on historically underrepresented populations (youth, low-income, etc.)
- Make their voter registration services available to everyone
- Attempt to influence which parties or candidates get elected to public office
- Coordinate activities with candidates or parties
- Prioritize outreach to populations because they are more likely to vote for certain types of candidates
- Reference candidates or parties
- Provide incentives and/or knowingly and willfully pay, offer to pay, or accept payment either for registering to vote or voting (payment includes anything having monetary value including pizza or prizes given out for voting).
Relevant Voter Registration Federal Election Laws for 501(c)(3) Nonprofit Organizations
When federal candidates are on the ballot, certain FEC rules may apply, including:
- Organizations should not provide incentives and/or knowingly and willfully pay, offer to pay, or accept payment either for registering to vote or voting (payment includes anything having monetary value including pizza or prizes given out for voting).
- Organizations should not coordinate voter registration activities with candidates or political parties.
Know Your State Laws on Voter Registration
State laws can be very specific. For example:
- Texas requires any person who collects and returns completed voter registration forms to be appointed a Volunteer Deputy Registrar (VDR) by each county in which they will be acting.
- Minnesota allows individuals to register to vote online. Third parties (like nonprofit staff) may not electronically submit a voter registration application on a voter’s behalf, but may help the voter submit the application, with the voter’s consent and in the voter’s presence.
- Many states also have restrictions on providing incentives for voter registration (like FEC regulations), so check your state’s laws for more.
- In California, if you request more than 50 voter registration cards, you must submit a distribution form that (among other things) requires you to summarize your distribution plan.
Check out our Practical Guidance-Nonprofit Voter Assistance series. We currently have 19 states available, but more coming soon!
Foundations CAN Support Voter Registration
Foundations can provide grants for nonpartisan voter registration activities only!
- Public Foundations can fund nonpartisan voter registration directly or indirectly by making specific project or general support grants.
- While the rules for Private Foundations are more restrictive, 501(c)(3) organizations can potentially use their general support grants to support voter registration drives (if not prohibited in grant agreement). In addition, Private Foundations can make specific project grants for voter registration drives in limited circumstances.
Make a Plan for 2024 Now!
- Check out Nonprofit Vote’s National Voter Registration Day website for tips and shareable posts.
- Train your staff and volunteers are on the rules!
- Make your own plan to vote!
- Practical Guidance – Nonprofit Voter Assistance
- Want to Conduct or Fund a Voter Registration Drive?
- The Rules of the Game: A Guide to Election-Related Activities for 501(c)(3) Organizations
- Voter Registration Rules for Private Foundations
- Combatting Voter Suppression and Election Subversion: What Your Nonprofit Can Do
- Bolder Advocacy’s TA hotline: 866-NP-LOBBY
- Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
- Our website is bolderadvocacy.org