Door-To-Door Democracy: Expanding Canvassing Rights to Promote Democratic Participation



The act of going door-to-door for a political candidate or cause is a longstanding part of the American civic tradition. Political canvassing plays a vital role in our democracy—assisting citizens with voter registration, providing civic education, and increasing voter participation—which can play a critical role in building the political power of marginalized communities. Because of its importance in civic life, canvassing has long been protected under the First Amendment. However, canvassers continue to face restrictions that frustrate their exercise of this right. Municipalities regulate political, religious, and charitable canvassing in ways that likely violate the First Amendment while also disproportionately subjecting canvassers of color to arbitrary and illegal enforcement. Canvassers face seemingly insurmountable challenges when seeking to canvass residents of apartment buildings, which denies apartment residents access to the services provided to those who live in single-family homes. This Article seeks to equip advocates with strategies to protect and expand canvassing rights as a means of increasing democratic participation. The Article traces the history of First Amendment jurisprudence on canvassing, exploring legal arguments to expand canvassing rights and combat municipal canvassing restrictions. The Article also explores the complex legal landscape governing canvassing in apartment buildings and offers litigation and policy strategies for expanding the right to canvass—and the right to be canvassed—into both public housing and privately-owned, multi-unit buildings.

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