This year and through the election, Democracy Initiative partners and allies came together and intensified efforts to protect our democracy, demonstrating the strength of our unified mission and goals. Many organizations, whose primary mission is elsewhere, were engaged in key efforts across the country. Volunteers stepped up to monitor the polls, we saw the culmination of years of effort with a vote on a Constitutional Amendment on the Senate floor with majority support, and new efforts in counties and states to enact fair elections were passed.
Keep reading to learn about our recent work.
Citizen Poll Monitors in the Wake of Shelby County v. Holder
This fall, the Democracy Initiative and our allies supported on-the-ground, non-partisan citizen poll monitoring. For 50 years, the Voting Rights Act has stood as a bulwark against efforts to limit voting, but in the aftermath ofShelby County v. Holder, the absence of key sections of the 1965 Voting Rights Act have left many communities vulnerable to discriminatory voting rules and legislation. We saw it as critical that we engage in efforts to record and report what actually happened in this election.
On October 15th, the Democracy Initiative and our partners hosted a Tele Town Hall with thousands of activists to recruit non-partisan poll monitors in California, New Mexico, Colorado, Ohio, Georgia, Illinois, Massachusetts, Michigan, North Carolina, Texas, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. Speakers described the situation, explained what poll monitors would do and asked for volunteers. The call’s 13,000 participants learned about the issues and volunteered to participate adding 150 additional poll monitors to aid local efforts. Partnering with Common Cause, NAACP, and the State Voices network that coordinated the on-the-ground operations in conjunction with the Election Protection coalition coordinated by the Lawyer’s Committee on Civil Rights Under Law, we recruited these volunteers from among members and activists from Public Citizen, Sierra Club, CWA, National LGBTQ Task Force, and NAACP. The volunteers were recruited from communities that were likely to face problems at the polls and observed the polling locations for instances of intimidation, disenfranchisement, and other abnormalities.
The Election Protection hotline received more than 18,000 calls on Election Day from poll monitors and other concerned voters requesting direct assistance, a 40% increase from 2010. With more than 2,000 legal and grassroots volunteers, the hotline provided a nonpartisan resource for voters with questions and problems, the majority of which came from Texas, Georgia, and Florida. In 2015 we will continue to work with our partners to expand the network of volunteers supporting voting rights across the country.
Democracy for All Constitutional Amendment
In the wake of the Supreme Court’s erosion of long-standing laws to regulate money in politics, the Democracy Initiative worked with a broad coalition comprised of internal partners and other allies to build nationwide support for a proposed constitutional amendment, giving Congress the renewed authority to regulate the ever increasing amount of money flooding our political process.
Democracy Initiative partners, led by Public Citizen, People for the American Way, Common Cause, Free Speech for People and others have galvanized grassroots support across the country by organizing around recent Senate hearings with rallies, in-district meetings with Members of Congress, and an editorial and letter writing campaign nationwide featuring pieces authored by leading progressives. The Democracy Initiative worked with the coalition to amplify high profile and unusual voices in support of reform. Ultimately, op-eds were featured in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Roanoke Times, Springfield News-Leader, Los Angeles Daily News, Portland Press-Herald, and Roll Call among many others.
In addition to the op-ed campaign, rallies, events, and other activities were held nationwide demonstrating a strong commitment to the movement from activists. Here is a synopsis:
• 3.2 million+ petition signatures delivered
More than two dozen DI partners and other allies reached out their member lists, urging them to sign the petition. Led by People for the American Way, many groups including the Sierra Club, NAACP, CWA, and LCV contributed heavily in this effort to engage and mobilize our membership base.
• 15,000+ phone calls to Senators
Thanks in large part to CWA toll-free number, the coalition generated more than 15,000 calls to Senators’ offices in the week leading up to the vote—an average of 300 calls per Senate office.
• In-district events
To tap into the energy leading up to this pivotal vote, in-district events were held at Senators’ offices, organized in large part by Public Citizen. Partners encouraged participation through their member lists and the events had solid attendance across the board, from a small spirited event in Alaska at Senator Murkowski’s office, to a large rally in Chicago at Senator Kirk’s office, and a marching band that showed up to help provide support for the event in Portsmouth, NH at Senator Ayotte’s office. Media turned out for these events and the five remaining Democrats who had not cosponsored the Democracy for All amendment all made commitments to vote for it in large part as a result of these events – four of them putting out public statements directly mentioning the events and the impact on their decision.
On September 30th, the Montgomery County Council passed Bill 16-14, a landmark fair elections law empowering small donors. Specifically, the law allows candidates to raise low-dollar donations from individuals in their district to qualify for matching funds. Once a candidate meets the threshold to qualify, donations of $150 or less are matched with public funds, with smaller donations receiving a higher match. In exchange, candidates agree to turn down large donations from special interests.
Montgomery County is Maryland’s most populous county, home to more than 1 million residents. The bill’s passage is a major victory for fair elections advocates and is the first passed by a local government in Maryland since the state legislature permitted changes to campaign finance law in 2012.
Common Cause Maryland and MD PIRG were heavily involved on the ground with support from national organizations such as Every Voice. The Democracy Initiative released statements of 11 DI partners, ensuring diverse voices from non-traditional allies in labor, environment, and civil rights organizations were raised in support of this momentous achievement.
On Constitution Day, September 17, the Democracy Initiative along with American Constitution Society, Common Cause, Communications Workers of America, Demos, Free Speech for People, People For the American Way, Public Citizen, and Sierra Club hosted a reception and book-signing featuring Jeff Clements, author of Corporations Are Not People. At the event, both Larry Cohen and Jeff Clements addressed the attendees, thanking and encouraging their continued enthusiasm and dedication to fight corporate personhood. Jeff took questions from crowd, many of whom were activists and eager to share their passion for an equal voice in politics.
The Fix the Senate Now coalition, a project of the Democracy Initiative, has continued its work on Senate rules reform, advocating for sensible changes to the rules governing the U.S. Senate to end gridlock and allow the institution to meet some of our country’s greatest challenges. The changes made to Senate rules at the end of last year have enabled the Senate to finally confirm several judicial nominees, but many executive branch nominees remain caught in the gridlock that marks this Senate as one of the least productive in history. After the election we have redoubled our efforts to ensure that the Senate is doing its job and confirming the remaining nominees.
New Convening Member and Leadership
The Democracy Initiative would like to welcome Common Cause, joining the Sierra Club, CWA, NAACP, and Greenpeace as the DI’s newest convening member of the coalition! We look forward to working more closely as we fight to restore our democracy and political equality in states and across the country.
In addition to Common Cause becoming a new convening member, NAACP and Greenpeace have announced new leadership at their organizations. The NAACP National Board of Directors announced its selection of attorney Cornell William Brooks to be the Association’s next National President & CEO and will become the 18th person to oversee operations at the nation’s oldest and largest civil rights organization in its 105-year history. Greenpeace announced their new Executive Director, Annie Leonard, who began her career at Greenpeace International in 1988 and is returning now to help the organization inspire and mobilize millions of people to take action to create a more sustainable future together.
New Democracy Initiative Members!
The Democracy Initiative continues to expand, as more organizations recognize the growing democracy movement and its essential role in achieving our collective goals. We have now reached 50 organizations and count the following among our new members:
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