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At a Glance
This collection is arranged in 34 series.
Scope and Contents
Organizational records of the nonprofit Human Service Employees Registration and Voter Education Fund (Human SERVE), which advocated for Americans to have the opportunity to register to vote at government-run social services agencies. The collection includes records of Human SERVE's funding sources, organizational partnerships, and campaigns. There are also records of Human SERVE's involvement in the passage and implementation of laws on both the state and federal levels that resulted from the organization's advocacy work. The bulk of the state-level records are from New York State. Finally, there are internal records related to the organization's staffing, Board, and legal compliance.
Using the Collection
Rare Book and Manuscript Library
Restrictions on Access
You will need to make an appointment in advance to use this collection material in the Rare Book and Manuscript Library reading room. You can schedule an appointment once you've submitted your request through your Special Collections Research Account.
This collection is located off-site. You will need to request this material at least three business days in advance to use the collection in the Rare Book and Manuscript Library reading room.
This collection has no restrictions.
Terms Governing Use and Reproduction
Single photocopies may be made for research purposes. The RBML maintains ownership of the physical material only. Copyright remains with the creator and his/her heirs. The responsibility to secure copyright permission rests with the patron.
Identification of specific item; Date (if known); Human Service Employees Registration and Voter Education Fund (Human SERVE) records; Box and Folder; Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Columbia University Library.
Materials may have been added to the collection since this finding aid was prepared. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
Immediate Source of Acquisition
Source of acquisition--Gift of Human SERVE. Date of acquisition--2000.
The story of Human SERVE is told as the second half of the book Why Americans Still Don't Vote, by Frances Fox Piven and Richard A. Cloward, Beacon Press, 2000.
About the Finding Aid / Processing Information
Columbia University Libraries, Rare Book and Manuscript Library
Processed by Jo-Anne Chasnow, 2003.
2010-02-11 Legacy finding aid created from Pro Cite.
2019-05-20 EAD was imported spring 2019 as part of the ArchivesSpace Phase II migration.
History / Biographical Note
Biographical / Historical
The Human Service Employees Registration and Voter Education Fund (Human SERVE) was formed as a nonprofit organization in 1983 by Richard A. Cloward and Frances Fox Piven. It played a catalytic role in the passage of the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 (Cloward and Piven stood behind President Clinton at the bill signing on May 20, 1993). The Act requires states to permit people to register to vote when they get or renew drivers licenses or when they apply for benefits in welfare (Food Stamps, Medicaid, Women Infants and Children offices, and disability agencies). The Act went into effect in January 1995 and Human SERVE played a leading role in the effort to improve implementation by state officials especially in social service agencies. Human SERVE closed its doors in June 2000, having reached its goal of changing the American voter registration system by opening up access to people at the bottom of the socioeconomic scale.
Human SERVEs activities can be broken out into three experiments. The first focused on not-for-profit agencies and was attempted during the 1983-1984 period and again in 1995-1996. Human SERVE tried to mobilize national networks of voluntary social service agencies to make voter registration services available at their application intake desks. These networks included tens of thousands of child care family service family planning settlement houses and kindred agencies with predominantly poorer clientele.
The state and local government strategy was emphasized between 1983 and 1990. Human SERVE attempted to persuade legislatures to mandate voter registration in public assistance unemployment offices. Attempts were also made to persuade mayors, county executives and governors to issue executive orders establishing voter registration services in welfare and unemployment offices. The state legislative strategy was most successful but exclusively in drivers license bureaus. Legislators were not willing to include agencies which served the poor. Because of our location in New York we gave special attention to New York which is reflected in our files.
The federal experiment, from 1987 until 1993 involved persuading the national voting rights community to focus on this agency-based approach to voter registration rather than election day registration in their efforts at national legislative reform. With this coalition in place and with limited state precedents in drivers license agencies a handful of friendly elections officials and federal legislators and tremendous tenacity the National Voter Registration Act became law in 1993.
Litigation was an element of our work from the beginning, as is reflected in the legal restraints section of the files.
Cloward was a faculty member at the Columbia University School of Social Work from 1954 until his death in 2001. Piven is a Distinguished Professor of Political Science and Sociology at the Graduate School and Universtiy Center The City University of New York.