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King County grants seek to help hard-to-reach voters

caption: FILE: Kristen Nelson drops off her ballot on Tuesday, November 6, 2018, at a ballot drop box in front of the Rainier Beach Community Center in Seattle.
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FILE: Kristen Nelson drops off her ballot on Tuesday, November 6, 2018, at a ballot drop box in front of the Rainier Beach Community Center in Seattle.
KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer

King County’s Voter Education Fund has awarded nearly one million dollars to 39 organizations. The money will provide voter outreach tailored to under-represented groups.

Eleven groups are receiving the Voter Education Fund engagement grant for the first time. King County and the Seattle Foundation say this cycle of grant recipients put an increased emphasis on reaching people with disabilities, as well as African American and Native American voters, and residents of South King County.

One first-time recipient is the group Progress Pushers, a member of the Northwest Credible Messenger Initiative. Staff member Jason Clark said the group is focused on helping youth who have had contact with the juvenile justice system get politically engaged. “We really want to politicize our communities, and the reality is those are black and brown communities, South King County, and communities that have been impacted by the criminal justice system."

Grants were award for either $40,000 or $15,000 over two years. Progress Pushers received the smaller award, but Clark said it will help jump-start the work they’re doing. He said they will use the funds to raise awareness about the political process and help people address barriers to participation. “There’s a lot of people who aren’t voting,” he said. “There’s a lot of people who are previously incarcerated who don’t know they can have their rights restored.”

For example, Clark said his group participated in a recent event where people who had been incarcerated talked about the barriers to reentry that they faced. “We talked about political processes and the importance of us really making sure our voice matters, and that we participate in voting,” he said. The grants can be used for nonpartisan outreach both to engage voters and increase awareness of issues faced by those communities. Clark said they’re trying to highlight issues like criminal justice reform, and the need for programs for at-risk youth.

Another first-time recipient this year is Disability Rights Washington. Their funding is intended to advocate for voters with disabilities in King County and city jails. DRW attorney Stacie Siebrecht said they will use the grant to seek “the creation of voting policies, connections with local election officials for access to accessible voting units and other voting materials, and improved practices by jails to support voters.”

DRW will do in-person advocacy and education with corrections officers, among others. They will also seek to educate parties and candidates about accessibility issues voters face. Their grant application said community feedback indicates that “publications and events continue to be inaccessible, particularly to constituents with mobility disabilities or who are deaf or hard of hearing.”

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