Can My 501(c)(3) Non-Profit Organization Engage in Voter Registration Activities? 3 Things Non-Profit Organizations Need to Know

 

With an election right around the corner, many non-profit organizations may be wondering

whether the organization is legally allowed to engage in voter registration campaigns. And after

going through the process of obtaining 501(c)(3) status, few organizations want to risk losing it

by engaging in unlawful political activity.

 

Simply put and according to the Internal Revenue Service, otherwise known as the IRS,

501(c)(3) non-profit organizations are permitted to engage in such activity. However, depending

on what state your organization is registered in, your state may have other laws or requirements

in order to do so. Read on for more information that your organization should consider before

engaging in political activity.

 

 

What Activities are Prohibited by the Internal Revenue Service?

The IRS has a prohibition against 501(c)(3) organizations from engaging in partisan political

activities. This means that an organization cannot “directly, or indirectly, participate in, or

intervene in (including the publishing or distributing of statements), any political campaign on

behalf of or in opposition to any candidate for public office.” [1]

 

Thus, nonprofits may not engage in the following political activities:

  • Endorsing or opposing a candidate running for public office;

  •  Making a campaign contribution to or expenditure for or against a candidate;

  • Rating candidates on who is most favorable for the organization’s particular issues; or

  • Letting candidates use the organization’s facilities or resources unless those resources are made equally available to all candidates at their fair market value. [2]

 

Does This Include Voter Registration Campaigns?

The IRS states that organizations may conduct any range of activities to promote voter

registration, educate voters or connect with candidates so long as it is nonpartisan. In general,

voter registration campaigns are nonpartisan so long as they do not include language that

promotes or opposes a candidate.

 

For example, 501(c)(3) nonprofits may conduct or promote voter registration, educate voters on

the voting process, or distribute nonpartisan sample ballots, candidate questionnaires, or voter

guides. [2] They may also organize get-out-the-vote activities, host or co-sponsor a candidate

forum, educate the candidates on issues related to the organization, and continue to do issue

advocacy during an election. [2]

 

Keep in mind that your staff and volunteers must remain nonpartisan when working for or

representing your organization. When they are “off the clock,” they may engage in partisan work

or activities.

 

Does this Apply to All States?

More than half the states have laws governing voter registration drives. Prior to engaging in

these voter registration campaigns, be sure to check your state’s guidelines and rules.

 

For example, Pennsylvania has no requirement for organizations to register with the state in order to conduct a voter registration program.[3]

 

Contrast this to Florida, which requires third-party voter registration organizations, including nonprofits, to pre-register with the Florida Division of Elections. [4] This form must be filed before any voter registration efforts take place.

 

This registration, among other things, requires electronic submission of the name and address of each employee or volunteer who will be registering voters on the organization’s behalf. The organizations also must account for every state and federal form the organization handled, including those that went unused. Another aspect of this law requires that, once registered,

organizations must submit completed forms to state officials within 48 hours or the next

business day if the appropriate office is closed for the 48-hour period. [5]

 

Due to these strict restrictions, it is important to check with your state and county Division of

Elections before you engage in any form of political activity, including voting registration drives.

 

Disclaimer

This blog post is presented for informational purposes only. As always, consult a licensed

attorney for specific, detailed advice about what activities are not allowed under the law.

For further information, please feel free to set up a consultation for your 501(c)(3) at our

website. We look forward to helping your organization!

 

 

References:

[1] 26 C.F.R. § 1.501(c)(3)-(1)(b)(3)(i) and (ii). 

[2] B. Holly Schadler, The Connection: Strategies for Creating and Operating 501(c)(3)s, 501(c)(4)s and Political Organizations, 4 Advocacy Resource. 1, 2-3 (2018). 

[3] 25 PA. CONS. STAT. § 1327(3) (2012).

[4] FLA. STAT. § 97.021(37) (2011); FLA. ADMIN. CODE ANN. r. 1S-2.042(5)(b) (2011).

[5] FLA. STAT. §97.0575(3)(a) (2011).

 

 

 

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