A new cycle of funding to support voter outreach and education for historically disenfranchised populations in King County will receive a nearly $1 million boost over the next two years.
The $950,000 in grants will be awarded to over 30 nonprofits this year and next under King County Elections’ Voter Education Fund. This year’s round of funding is more important than ever, said Kendall LeVan Hodson, chief of staff of county elections.
“With all of the misinformation around elections over the past year, this work is critically important to ensure that there’s good information out there and that it’s being shared by trusted sources in the community,” Hodson said.
While many factors determine voter turnout, King County Elections credits the voter education fund for boosting last year’s historic turnout: the 2020 presidential primaries tallied a 56% voter turnout in King County, compared with 33% in 2016. The August 2020 primary election had a 56% voter turnout, while only 37% of registered voters came to the polls in 2016. And the November 2020 general election voter turnout was 87%, compared with 82% in 2016.
Applicants have until April 2 to submit proposals that improve civic engagement through activities ranging from virtual programs to setting up information tables at fairs and events. This cycle’s focus includes limited English speakers, people experiencing homelessness, those convicted of felonies and people with disabilities, as well as Black, Indigenous and people of color.
With local 2021 elections around the corner, King County Elections seeks to galvanize residents to engage in local races that determine taxes, city council members and how schools are run, Hodson said.
The Voter Education Fund was piloted in 2016 and launched the following year through a partnership between the Seattle Foundation and the King County Elections Fund. It originally focused on reaching populations with limited English skills and has since expanded to reach all underserved populations.
The department turned to nonprofit organizations rooted in historically marginalized communities to engage people through sources they already trust. “Supporting equitable representation should be an imperative for us all, in order to ensure that those who are most marginalized have a voice in how they engage in our democracy,” Seattle Foundation’s President and CEO Tony Mestres said. “Representation should be recognized as a bedrock pillar of our republic,” he added.
From 2019 through 2020, there were 39 grant recipients, including the Asian Counseling and Referral Services, Being Empowered Through Supportive Transitions, and the Indigenous-led Na’ah Illahee Fund — nonprofit organizations that serve marginalized communities.
The pandemic presented a new set of outreach challenges for the Indigenous Showcase, a Seattle-based nonprofit that amplifies the local Native community and had previously educated people on voting in person at powwows and canoe journeys. Last year, the Indigenous Showcase staff used their social media platform to share information on voter registration and hosted weekly Zoom chats about voting — “Café Conversations with Katie and Chloe” — that were uploaded to Facebook.
Auburn-based nonprofit Being Empowered Thru Supportive Transition also had to be creative to reach formerly incarcerated people and those experiencing homelessness during the pandemic. Instead of setting up information booths at transitional houses and criminal justice centers, the nonprofit partnered with the Kent nonprofit Restore, Assemble and Produce to distribute voting pamphlets along with free groceries.
In 2020, grant recipients reached 663,168 people, held 2,465 events and activities, and registered 2,351 voters, according to King County Elections. From 2018 through 2019, nonprofits funded by the Voter Education Fund reached 224,440 voters, held 2,958 activities, and registered 15,199 people.
“It’s even more critical that we reduce gaps to barriers, and get people more engaged in local elections,” LeVan Hodson said.
Grant recipients will be announced in early May.