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This Week in electionLine: Going to Voters Where They Live

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[Image courtesy of vanderbrew.com]

In this week's electionlineWeekly, Mindy Moretti has an interesting look at an innovative way some election offices have devised to keep up with voters on the move. It's reproduced in full below:

Voter-roll maintenance is one of the most important functions for an elections office. It's also one of the most time consuming and for some, the bane of their existence.

And it's because of this that elections officials are always looking for new and unique ways to help voters get registered or update their registration, which ultimately helps the elections officials as well.

In Wilson County, Tennessee, the county elections commission has teamed up with local realtors and title companies to assure that every new homeowner gets a voter registration form and information sheet.

"Our office has an active community outreach program and this is a part of that," said Phillip Warren, administrator of elections for the county. "Accurate voter rolls are the foundation of great elections. We are always looking for initiatives to improve the voter rolls in Wilson County."

Warren said that voter registration maintenance is often overlooked when voters move and only becomes an issue when it is time to vote.

"This partnership with the Realtors and title companies is an opportunity for the people involved with almost every person moving within the county, into the county or out of the county to help us keep our voter rolls as up to date as possible," Warren said.

It is also another service the Realtors and title companies can provide their clients, as well and it is because of that, Warren said that the Realtors were very open to the idea and they also set up a meeting with the title companies.

"Realtors and real estate closing agents see clients every day that are moving to Wilson County, moving to a new address within the county or that are selling their home and moving out of the county," Amy Hamilton, president of the Eastern Middle Tennessee Association of Realtors told a local paper. "Each real estate closing represents an opportunity to register a new voter or keep a voter's record current." 

To implement the program, Warren added a page to the election commission's website where the Realtors and title companies can go and download all the necessary forms and information sheets. The page includes forms for new voter registration, address changes and request for removal for those leaving Wilson County. All the forms are .pdfs and there are instructions for completing the forms and how they should be returned to the elections office.

Warren said that by putting all the forms on the site instead of distributing paper forms, they are available "on demand" and it also saved the county money on printing additional forms.

The program just launched two weeks ago and Warren is eager to see results, especially because this year is an election year.

"This is a perfect partnership for any jurisdiction," Warren said. "Maintaining accurate voter registrations is the foundation of successful elections and any partnership that enhances that is worthwhile."

While the Wilson County initiative focuses on new homeowners there are at least two programs that focus on renters.

In 2012 the Madison, Wisconsin city council approved an ordinance to require landlords to provide voter information and registration forms to all new tenants.

The ordinance was not well-received by some landlords who told local media that requiring the landlords to provide the forms, while a nice gesture, extended the reach of what they should be required to do.

"Especially with voting, it just is not appropriate for us to be doing the work of the alders and the political parties. We're not trying to obstruct people from voting, we just aren't the people to do this," Eileen Bruskewitz, a former Dane County supervisor and landlord told The Daily Page in 2012.

State-level legislation supported by the landlords attempted to supersede local ordinance, but the legislation failed.

While the landlords may not have been big fans of the ordinance, according to Maribeth Witzel-Behl, Madison clerk, it has been well received by the new tenants.

"We put a star on the registration forms that we initially gave to landlords, and 500 of them came back to our office, completed in October 2012," Witzel-Behl said.

Witzel-Behl said there is no real additional work or costs to her office because they would be printing the registration forms anyway.

East Lansing, Michigan, home to Michigan State University -- the University of Wisconsin is located in Madison -- passed a similar ordinance in 2013.

Thanks, Mindy!

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