Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Nonprofits recruiting voters among their clients 

Only one question should be asked regarding the MinnPost report that 501(c)(3)s will now be expected to help with voter registration: Cui bono?
"... [A] nonprofit corporation that contracts with the state agency to carry out obligations of the state agency shall provide voter registration services for employees and the public. A person may complete a voter registration application or apply to change a voter registration name or address if the person has the proper qualifications on the date of application. Nonpartisan voter registration assistance, including routinely asking members of the public served by the agency whether they would like to register to vote and, if necessary, assisting them in preparing the registration forms must be part of the job of appropriate agency employees."
So if I want to give money to Habitat for Humanity, a piece of my donation is now required by law to help pay for a voter registration GOTV campaign by Habitat. And the government favors that donation with tax deductibility (not so for a contribution I might make to AARP, which advocates for seniors and does GOTV voter registration already.) One can even use a tax-deductible donation to a 501(c)(3) to support a school levy referendum. (Yes, they're at it again.)

What nonprofit will not want to recruit those voters who are most likely to favor programs that allow nonprofits to get more taxpayer money through grants and other aid?

UPDATE: In comments Jeff Rosenberg catches my mistake in mixing up GOTV and voter registration. Not the same thing, though voter registration can be part of GOTV, particularly in the state of Minnesota which allows same-day registration. And that's part of the problem. Should we really make it so easy for people to vote? Interestingly, the public choice literature on this that I have read doesn't make it clear that easy registration necessarily means more of the poor vote, but I think the purpose of this particular law is to address the perceived imbalance of voting towards those in higher socio-economic status.

Another thing to wonder about: If we put more of the clients of nonprofits on the voting rolls (who are likely to be less educated), they also appear more in the jury box. It's possible that getting more people involved in the political process will induce more learning, but I have my doubts.

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