The Voter Education Fund
Seattle Foundation partners with King County Elections to increase civic engagement. Deadline to apply for funding is May 2.
April 13, 2017
By Jonathan Cunningham
If we truly want to ensure that our democracy is vibrant, we need to encourage as many eligible citizens as possible to vote. One of the greatest challenges is low voter participation in some underserved and historically marginalized communities. In a state that has a vote-by-mail system, how do people experiencing homelessness vote? In a city with a large number of immigrants and limited-English speakers, where do citizens get necessary voter information in languages they understand?
To address issues like these, Seattle Foundation and King County Elections are partnering to increase engagement and voter participation through the Voter Education Fund. The partners have committed a minimum of $400,000 for each of the next two years in grants to organizations working to address low voter turnout within marginalized communities. “One of the hallmarks of a vibrant democracy is having an inclusive election process,” says Julie Wise, Director of King County Elections. “The Voter Education Fund serves to increase voter access in historically underserved communities.”
This grant program is housed within Seattle Foundation’s Vibrant Democracy Initiative in an effort to increase voter participation and boost civic leadership within disenfranchised populations. This multi-year approach is designed to shift who is at the table so that those voting within marginalized communities eventually have candidates who authentically represent them in local government.
The Voter Education Fund was created after a successful pilot to engage communities who speak a language other than English. Last year, King County Elections and Seattle Foundation awarded $224,000 in grants to community-based organizations. Through their voter outreach activities, the organizations reached 27,000 limited English-speaking voters across King County.
This year the scope has broadened. Organizations working to increase civic engagement and voting among communities of color, people with disabilities, low-income youth, veterans, people experiencing homelessness, limited English-speaking communities and reinstated voters who have been convicted of a felony are strongly encouraged to apply. Groups can apply for up to $25,000 to develop a nine-month campaign to engage voters or potential voters, or up to $10,000 to provide a series of smaller events.
On April 11 and 13, Seattle Foundation and King County Elections held public information sessions attended by representatives from more than 30 different organizations. The events were designed to share information about the grant applications and to hear feedback from the community on the core reasons people aren’t voting.
Two large sheets of paper were placed around the room with the following questions. The answers that came back from community members were revealing.
What do you think stops most people from voting?
--No one cares if they vote or not. People feel disillusioned by “the system” and government.
--Not having access to the internet.
--Language barriers and fear, including dangerous voting conditions in their country of origin
--Many new residents to this region are still learning and don’t yet care about local politics.
What do you think communities need to fully participate in the voting process?
--Confidence in the democratic process and community spaces where voices are heard.
--Candidates that are representative of the communities they serve.
--Receiving information about issues from trusted organizations and candidates.
--Candidates who are willing to engage Native/Indigenous communities and tribes.
It’s clear that much work needs to be done to address the issues and barriers that prevent eligible voters from fully participating in our democracy.
We hope to receive strong proposals from King County-based organizations. The application period for the Voter Education Fund is open from April 3 to May 2, 2017.
Another public information session will take place on
April 20 at Kent Commons in the Mill Creek Room, from 2-3:30p.m.
communities of opportunity,