Politicians should not force private citizens to act as agents of the government. Most members of Westminster’s city council seem to disagree, at least when it comes to forcing some rental owners to distribute voter registration forms.
As Complete Colorado reported, on April 28 the council considered an ordinance that would require “owners of licensed rental properties provide to each new tenant a Colorado Voter Registration form, as approved by the Colorado Secretary of State, concurrent with the landlord’s delivery of possession of the premises to the tenant.”
The council “gave preliminary approval” to the measure by a 5-2 vote, as Valerie Richardson reported for The Colorado Observer. The ordinance includes the power to levy fines up to $1,000 on landlords who fail to comply.
The most important problem with the proposal is that it would violate the moral right of rental owners to operate their businesses as they see fit. People have a right to conduct business without politicians threatening to fine them if they don’t correctly process government paperwork for government purposes unrelated to the business.
Richardson reports that some advocates of the proposal characterized its effects on rental owners as slight. Nonetheless, slight violations of people’s rights are still morally wrong. And, if government can force private citizens to act as government agents in slight ways, government can force them to act as such in more onerous ways as well.
If government agents wish to distribute government forms, they should do so without pushing the burden onto uncompensated private citizens. If the cost of distributing the forms is so slight, as advocates of the measure claim, then it should be no problem for Westminster government to handle the task itself.
Indeed, Westminster plans to do so anyway. The paperwork accompanying the proposal also directs city staff “to provide all new utility customers with voter registration materials in order to encourage all new residents to become registered to vote.”
It’s not like voter registration is difficult. Not only do “all Colorado driver’s license offices provide voter registration services,” but the Secretary of State’s office enables people to register to vote online.
Some advocates have expressed concerns that suggest too few people are voting. Elena Nunez of Colorado Common Cause complained to The Colorado Observer that “renters were less likely to register to vote or participate in elections than homeowners.”
But that fact should not be surprising. Many renters don’t stay in the state for long; many don’t want to become involved in state and local politics; and many aren’t even qualified to vote in the state.
Yet the Westminster council would force rental owners to distribute voter registration forms even to renters who can’t legally vote in Colorado. Such a policy is not only wrong, it’s crazy.
It simply isn’t true that every person legally qualified to vote bears in his breast an unquenchable longing to participate at the ballot box, but lacks access. Despite the great ease with which people can register to vote, many people simply choose not to vote—and they have the right to refrain.
What’s next on Westminster’s agenda: threaten to fine people for not voting?
The Westminster proposal is a solution in search of a problem, one that violates the rights of rental owners.