A: Yes! And they should.
Nonprofits are often uncertain about what they can legally do leading up to an election and therefore hold back, but there’s a lot that can be done. For example, nonprofit 501(c)(3) organizations* can:
- Conduct nonpartisan voter registration drives.
- Conduct nonpartisan get-out-the-vote activities, such as handing out reminders, phone banking, and organizing carpools.
- Get voters the information they need to vote—including election dates and times, polling places, details on how to vote, ID requirements (or lack thereof), and voter rights (such as time off from work to vote).
- Help residents, clients, and staff make a plan to vote.
- In states where identification is required, help eligible voters who don’t have up-to-date ID secure or renew it.
- Give nonpartisan information about who is running, or host a candidate forum.
- Take a position on a ballot measure (subject to time and resource limits on lobbying).
What you can’t do:
“Participate in—or intervene in—any political campaign on behalf of or in opposition to any candidate for elective public office.”
- This means your organization cannot endorse candidates, encourage people to vote a certain way, encourage people to register for a certain party, or only register those who identify with a certain party.
- You also should not interact on social media with accounts associated with campaigns or partisan organizations with endorsed candidates.
* There are a few kinds of federal funding that come with further restrictions. Go to bit.ly/PoliticalActivity for details.
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This question appears in the Fall 2018 edition of Shelterforce magazine.