Tag Archives: voters

Field Testing Voter Purges and “Drops”

Columbus        As the Voter Purge Project moves forward, we are now analyzing the voter files on more than a dozen states on our way to double that number in coming weeks, many of them include the hotly contested “battleground” states like Pennsylvania, Florida, Michigan, and North Carolina.  The VPP is processing these lists with our database team in order to assure that any voter suppression efforts are prevented from purging legitimate voters or purging voters in a discriminating way based on race, ethnicity, income or any other reason.  Early results have been encouraging with some important results in terms of voters saved and purges forestalled, but the project continues to wrestle with huge questions and concerns.

One of the most puzzling is determining the difference between purges for death or address changes as opposed to unexplained “drops” or voter disappearances.  Another is of course whether in states like Ohio and Georgia where a piece of mail can trigger a purge if there has not been a recent voting history, the purge is legitimate.

I spent time with former ACORN organizers in person and on the phone while in Columbus trying to puzzle out a field test that would combine our database analysis and questions with on-the-ground door knocking to determine either the answers or the legitimacy of these actions by the government.  In Columbus, we decided to look at four zip codes dotted in the heart of our historic low-and-moderate income, African-American constituency in Ohio.  We analyze the Ohio voter file on a weekly basis when it is posted on the Secretary of State’s website, so we can tell who the “disappeared” are in almost real time.

The plan would be to pull the names that are deleted in these zip codes from week to week and then to deploy organizers on the ground to visit the last known address of the voter that was in our database before they were either purged or dropped.  By keeping rigorous records of whether or not the actions were valid or not, we estimate that we would be able to determine the accuracy of the government’s actions and calculate a percentage of validity in the list.  In Ohio and other states where on-line registration is possible, we might be able to re-register them on the spot or work out a verification system with the authorities so that they were put back on the list.  If this works, we would do identical field tests in Atlanta, Georgia, Charlotte, North Carolina, and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

The notion for this kind of field test occurred to me as I visited Barbara Clark, a former ACORN organizer in the childcare center where she was working part-time.  She and some other former ACORN members from time to time were involved in circulating petitions for various initiatives in Columbus and were often paid by the signature.  She was complaining about the problems her team would have in collecting their money when the signature verifiers would claim that signature were invalid when the people signing had sworn to them that they were registered.  In thinking with her about a way to use our voter list access to keep her team from being ripped off, it seemed like there might be a way to reverse engineer her negative experience and find a way to “clean” the list in the street and build a firewall and prevention program around these purges and voter disappearances preemptively.

Organizing is all about listening, and you have to be in the streets to really hear and understand the issues and get your arms around them. Welcome to my world!


Want Our Vote, Talk to Me about Tenants

New Orleans        It’s a crowded field for the Democratic nomination for president this time around, but some of the candidates are wising up a bit and realizing that, if you want to win and push new and different voters to the polls, you better have a real plan for renters and affordable housing, not just more hollow platitudes about homeownership and white picket fences.  It even seems more urgent when the business pages of the Wall Street Journal start to write warnings for their readers that rent control is gaining traction.

On the rent control front, the passage of some limits, even very high ones in Oregon statewide, has sent tremors throughout the industry.  New York is also weighting a cap on rents now with a firmer Democratic legislative majority.  A bill that would allow local communities to enact rent controls in Colorado is moving forward.  Real estate interests won’t be able to hold back change in California forever.  I wouldn’t call it a movement yet, but if businessmen and real-estate investment trusts, are worried, I’m already happier about the prospects.

Some of the candidates are advancing proposals that speak to tenants and affordable housing, so let’s give some props to the ones that are standing up, even if some of are not yet measuring up.

Senator Elizabeth Warren and her campaign have focused on policy prescriptions, so it shouldn’t be a surprise that she leads in this area.  She introduced a bill, also sponsored by another candidate, Senator Kristen Gillibrand from New York, that would raise the estate tax to push money to nonprofit housing developers and raise about $50 billion.  The New York Times quotes a Moody’s analysis that claims such an infusion of new units would lower rents for a decade.  Warren’s bill would also provide more assistance to homeowners willing to buy in areas that were traditionally red-lined.

Warren and Senator Cory Booker from New Jersey advocate changing zoning laws to allow more density, though I’m pretty sure that’s a local issue.  To get around local real estate and developer cartels, Warren wants to increase the pot of Community Development Block Grant monies to force the issue.  Booker wants to deny CDBG money to communities that don’t change.

I’m disappointed that California’s Senator Kamala Harris, who I find has a lot of appeal, has placed such a small marker on such a huge issue.  She advocates, along with Booker, a tax credit for renters, but, frankly, that just doesn’t get it for lower income renters or for a bigger supply of affordable units.

It’s early in the game, so all of these candidates can improve their stakes in this issue and others may come forward strong as well, but believe me it’s going to be a litmus test that any winner will have to pass.  The past is a prologue for the future when it comes to voters that will matter.  As the Times notes,

Renters heavily overlap with key Democratic constituencies, including younger adults, African-Americans and Hispanics, and urban residents. Voter turnout of renters in 2016 was about 12 percentage points lower than that of homeowners, according to the Cooperative Congressional Election Study. But that year they favored Hillary Clinton by 28 points (homeowners preferred Donald J. Trump by 11 points).

If you want tenants, you’re going to have to put some serious stuff on the table.  Elizabeth Warren seems to get that.  The rest of the field needs to bring their A-game on these issues.