Some Madison landlords are criticizing a proposed ordinance that would require property owners to provide new tenants with voter registration forms.
With 12 co-sponsors, the ordinance is expected to pass when the Common Council votes on the measure at Tuesday's meeting.
Former Dane County Board supervisor and landlord Eileen Bruskewitz says she strongly objects to the proposal as an "overreach" of the council's power. While some landlords may want to provide the form because it's a "nice thing to do," she says many landlords are "not going to do it," even if the ordinance passes.
"This is a bad ordinance. Don't pass it. We will not comply with it," Bruskewitz wrote flatly in a July 12 letter (PDF) to city alders. The letter was also signed by landlords Ron Fedler, Rose LeTourneau, and Art Luetke on behalf of the Madison Landlord Council. Bruskewitz says about 120 landlords belong to the Council.
"It's like saying we have to advertise for the restaurants on State Street because we want people to go there," says Bruskewitz in a phone interview. "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."
Failure to comply with the ordinance could result in fines of between $60 and $600, the same as other violations of city landlord-tenant relation laws (PDF).
Bruskewitz questions how quickly the ordinance made it through the legislative process. The proposal was introduced just two weeks ago on July 3.
"This idea was out there, and because they have the votes on council, I think they just thought 'we'll ram it through,'" she says.
The City Attorney's office released the ordinance's text on June 28 and on July 3 the council referred it to the Equal Opportunities Commission. The Commission on July 12 approved the measure.
District 2 Ald. Bridget Maniaci the lead sponsor of the bill, says the timing and scheduling simply "worked out."
"It just kind of happened that we introduced it and then there was a committee meeting in time that it could come back to the council at our next council meeting," she says.
The goal of the legislation, Maniaci says, is to help ensure an "efficient, well-run democracy" in Madison, and take some of the burden off of city clerk staff on Election Day. She says the clerk's office received 19,000 new registration or change of address forms on June 5, the day of the recall elections, and is only around 30% through processing these forms.
"I don't know that this is going to increase voter turnout, but I think what it will do is create a more peaceful Election Day process," Maniaci says.
Bruskewitz says this new requirement would distract landlords from other tasks, such as "repairing their buildings, making sure that everything is paid for," and helping tenants through any problems that come up.
Under the ordinance, the city would print and provide the registration forms at no cost to the landlords, says Maniaci. "I don't see how this can be construed as a burden to put one piece of paper in a folder that we're printing."
The way citizens in the United States vote is based on where they live, Maniaci adds, which means it is sensible to provide them with voting information when they change addresses.
"To provide to tenants voter registration forms at the time they move in, when most individuals are in the process of changing all of their other household information, everything from Netflix to their post-office address to the DMV, that's a very natural time to do this," she says.