Over 20 million Americans could be evicted by the end of September due to the current economic crisis, with 30 to 40 million facing eviction by December. Somewhere in the middle, one of the most highly anticipated presidential elections in recent history will take place.
That eviction crisis could make it harder for people to vote ― and, in turn, harder to hold politicians accountable for failing them in the midst of a pandemic that has now killed over 150,000 Americans.
“It’s the compounding of all of the worst things at the same time: an eviction crisis in the middle of a pandemic in the middle of uprisings” against police brutality, said Ría Thompson-Washington, manager of the Voting Rights and Democracy Program at the Center for Popular Democracy.
Americans who have recently been evicted will likely face complicated hurdles in order to exercise their right to vote. Voters may have to figure out how to re-register to vote in a new area, ensure that they don’t miss the registration deadline, figure out which polling place they can vote at and get themselves to that polling place, where they could be turned away if the address on their ID doesn’t match their voter registration. If they want to vote by mail ― a practice that has exploded in popularity due to the COVID-19 pandemic ― they will have to change their address. All of this could reduce voting access for some of the Americans most affected by the current crises, often people of color.
National Voter Registration Day is Sept. 22, with many state deadlines to register falling somewhere around mid-October. “Folks who have been evicted or are in the process of being evicted between late September until October are already starting at a disadvantage,” Thompson-Washington said. “It becomes another burden that folks have to bear.”
A good example of this perfect storm of crises hitting millions of Americans is Florida. An estimated 51% of renters in the state are at risk of eviction, according to a CNBC analysis; the state also shattered the U.S. record for most coronavirus cases in a day last month. While Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) recently extended the eviction moratorium in the state, critics say the fine print of the extension actually leaves residents struggling to pay rent even more vulnerable.
Voters who are evicted could be effectively disenfranchised as a result, said Stephanie Porta, executive director of Organize Florida.
“The GOP is systematically setting the groundwork necessary to disenfranchise thousands of voters and their faith in their government,” Porta said. “The deluge of evictions would come with another consequence for communities of color that have already been disproportionately affected by the COVID pandemic ― it’s an issue embedded in racial inequity that could cause a surge in COVID-19 cases, and is a form of voter suppression.”
Federal coronavirus housing relief has disproportionately favored white households over minorities because aid has been more easily accessible to homeowners, a Politico analysis found. White residents are more likely to own homes, while minorities, and Black households specifically, are more likely to rent. Over 30% of households were not able to pay their July rent on time, according to a recent report from Apartment List. Of those, the majority were young and low-income renters in urban areas.
Voting issues also disproportionately affect people of color. At polling places, voter ID rules are often “not applied consistently” across the board, partly due to lack of diversity among poll workers, said Thompson-Washington. Other voting restrictions, like laws that require photo ID to vote or “use it or lose it” laws which delete voters’ registrations if they haven’t used it in a certain period of time, also target Black, indigenous and other people of color.
“The GOP is systematically setting the groundwork necessary to disenfranchise thousands of voters and their faith in their government.”
“These problems have always existed. They have just been limited to mostly low-income Black and Brown voters,” said Sylvia Albert, Director of Voting and Elections at pro-democracy organization Common Cause. “That population [of people being evicted] has ballooned in the current crisis, and what it exposes is how some parts of our system are not responsive to the needs of the voters.”
One of the most persistent voting barriers Americans face right now is one that started long before the pandemic: Simply put, voting can be really confusing. Voting laws vary drastically state by state and range from strict voter ID regulations that require people show photo identification to mandating a voter’s gender marker match the gender they present at the polls. Some states, however, have same-day registration and allow voters to update their addresses at the polls on Election Day. Some jurisdictions even have voting centers where a person can vote anywhere in the entire county.
“Another piece of this is the complexities of ensuring you’re able to vote under the rules of wherever you are,” said Sophia Lin Lakin, deputy director of the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project. “Because voting is so tied to residence, and the fact that different states have different rules, keeping all of that straight and understanding what you need to do can be very challenging.”
The additional hurdles of a pandemic and an eviction crisis haven’t discouraged people’s interest in voting, Albert said.
“In reaction to the pandemic and the actions of the administration, people feel very strongly one way or another, and it has made them engage more passionately,” she said. “All we need to do now is make sure they have the access.”
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated which day National Voter Registration Day falls on in September.
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