The Dane County League of Women Voters has organized a new project to help reach out to an underserved population: apartment renters and dwellers.
Volunteers will help inform residents of apartment complexes about voter registration and requesting absentee ballots. They will “adopt” apartment complexes to work closely with property managers to get voting information into the hands of residents.
JoAnn Boushon, volunteer coordinator for the project, said it launched in fall 2019, and there are now 35 adopters and 375 apartments identified in the county, including eight adopters and 45 apartments in Fitchburg.
She said it was born out of challenges league members have faced attempting voter outreach at apartment buildings, which are typically locked.
Another important reason, Boushon said, is to focus voter registration efforts at apartments is that apartment dwellers move more frequently than homeowners and every time they move, they need to re-register to vote.
Depending upon the building and the relationship with the manager, the league reaches out to residents in various ways, she said. Sometimes managers will email the league’s voting information to residents in the apartment complexes. Other times, league volunteers are allowed inside to hang posters in doorways or elevators and on bulletin boards.
Boushon said the league is very careful about following changes to voting rules, updating materials every week.
“While we’re not the only group doing this type of voter outreach, the LWV produces very accurate and up to date info,” she said. “I’m biased, but I would say we’re more up to date than any other organization. We plan to put out new information each month, based on the point of time in the election cycle, information that is time sensitive.”
The league turns that information into materials such as bookmarks that contain information on voter registration and requesting absentee ballots.
“We get it to an easy, concise to understand format,” Boushon said. “We put a lot of time and effort in to make sure information is as accurate and easily understood as possible.”
She said the league would like to have small voter registration events, outside leasing offices at apartment complexes or in a lobby or community room, with a couple volunteers helping residents with the registration process.
The league held several of those events earlier this year. But given COVID-19 and social distancing, she’s not sure if those will happen over this summer. She’s hoping they will, but league members are not working one on one with residents at this time.
Despite being a project of the League of Women Voters, not all apartment adopters are women and league members – some friends and family of members are helping as well.
Boushon emphasized that the project, like the league, is meant to be nonpartisan. Anyone who wishes to become an adopter must agree not to use the role for partisan purposes now or into the future. The project’s goals are to register apartment residents to vote or to help them request absentee ballots – not to support a particular political party or candidate.
Even with adopters taking on upwards of five apartments at a time, many are still available to be adopted. Boushon said she hopes to double the number of volunteer adopters by October.
She said the types of people the project serves is becoming more diverse as the project grows, including crossing language barriers.
“We’re trying hard to get a cross-section of neighborhoods and communities – people both within the league and outside have opened doors,” she said. “We need confidants within communities of every kind.”
She said that managers can help adopters sort through what information is vital for a complex and what can be set aside for being too dense for those particular residents.
“Providing the information that people really need in an appropriate way rarely means language – it seldom means language – it means the content of our information has to be a good match for them,” she said. “We need to understand what residents need at that time. Some communities may need certain information more than others.”