Core to the Democracy Initiative’s mission is to defend and expand voting access nationally and in states. This special edition of the DI Report is meant to be an overview and resource on voting rights to which you can refer and use in your work. At our December convening, groups indicated that they wanted DI to act as a “Democracy Docent,” providing guidance for groups for which democracy has not been a primary focus. This newsletter is meant to fulfill that purpose and we expect to produce a similar newsletter on money in politics as well as update this newsletter in the future.
This year marks the 50th Anniversary of Bloody Sunday and the signing of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, as well as the 2nd Anniversary of Shelby Co. v. Holder, the Supreme Court decision that gutted the landmark legislation. We aspire to a democracy that is of, by and for the people and a crucial piece of that puzzle is ensuring that the voices of Americans are heard at the polls. We expect you can use this newsletter as a starting point for resources to engage your members, supporters, and constituents in a critical and landmark year in the fight for voting rights.
Please note: Although this newsletter is expansive, it is by no means exhaustive and we may have left out important tools and resources. If you feel we missed something, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I can incorporate your suggestions into future editions.
1. Expert Voting Rights Organizations
2. Information & Resources
3. Key Reporters & Social Media
4. Opportunities for Reform
Within the Democracy Initiative, expert voting rights organizations are a core component of our network and coalition. Their research, advocacy, and organizing capabilities help provide the Democracy Initiative and our allies with the resources necessary to expand and defend voting access nationally and in states. Additionally, organizations allied with our work are invaluable to our reform efforts.
Democracy Initiative Organizations
This section highlights key reports and resources from the Democracy Initiative network and voting rights community.
Select Research Reports:
- The Presidential Commission on Election Administration: Also known as the Bauer-Ginsburg Report and established by Executive Order in 2013, it sought to identify best practices in election administration and to make recommendations to improve the voting experience.
- Evaluating & Implementing the Presidential Commission on Election Administration in Ten Swing States: Common Cause's Stephen Spaulding and Allegra Chapman parsed the PCEA, seeking to lift up its recommendations and evaluate its implementation.
- Election Reforms and Voter Turnout Among Low Propensity Voters: A voting rights report by Tova Andrea Wang on various election reforms and their effects on voter turnout.
- Millions to the Polls: Demos report outlining sixteen policies and practices that would make registration more accessible and seamless, lead to more effective and efficient election administration, and strengthen protections for voters’ rights.
- National Commission on Voting Rights: In response to the Supreme Court gutting key Voting Rights Act protections, the National Commission on Voting Rights, organized by the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, conducted nationwide hearings to collect testimony about recent voting discrimination and election administration challenges and opportunities across all fifty states.
- State of Voting 2014: This Brennan Center report details the new voting restrictions put in place over the past few years, the laws that were in place for the first time in 2014, and the major lawsuits that could affect this year’s elections.
- National Conference of State Legislatures Elections Legislation Database: This comprehensive database tool lets you search state legislation related to the administration of elections introduced in 2011 through 2015.
Newsletters & Clips:
- Fair Elections Legal Network: Twice-daily state and national voting rights clips.
- Brennan Center: Frequent newsletters to keep you up to date on voting rights around the country.
- Project Vote: Monthly newsletter summarizing key legislation, voting rights news, and other vital updates on issues from around the country.
- The Voting News: Produced by Verified Voting, this collection of voting rights news from around the country is a valuable resource to track recent and ongoing efforts in states.
- Election Line: Nonpartisan, non-advocacy clearinghouse for election reform news and information.
- The Canvass: From the National Conference of State Legislatures, this is a newsletter designed to synthesize data, legislative practices, and insight into an executive summary for legislators and key staff.
Blogs, Listservs & Other Resources:
- Strikeforce: Strikeforce is a weekly conference call with local, state and national organizations across the country to discuss restrictive and enfranchising voting laws, share best practices, resources, talking points, legislative strategies and ways for groups to engage in the work. Additionally, Strikeforce is a listserv for participants to share information and resources. You can join Strikeforce by emailing Chris Melody Fields at email@example.com.
- Election Protection Coalition: The nonpartisan Election Protection coalition was formed to ensure that all voters have an equal opportunity to participate in the political process. During elections, volunteers enter data and information into Our Vote Live, an interactive environment painting the most comprehensive picture of election irregularities from the perspective of the voter available anywhere.
- Rick Hasen Election Law Blog: Rick Hasen, a law and politics professor at UC Irvine, authors this blog covering the law of politics and politics of law, specifically covering election law, campaign finance, legislation, voting rights, redistricting, and the Supremem Court nomination process.
- Ohio State University: Moritz School of Law Election Law Center: Election Law at Moritz is a nonpartisan research, education, and outreach program conducted by faculty and staff of The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law. As a center of election law expertise, Election Law at Moritz is a resource for lawyers, academics and educators, journalists, policymakers and other civic leaders, election administrators and citizens interested in election law issues.
- Institute for Southern Studies: Founded by veterans of the civil rights movement, the Institute for Southern Studies has established a national reputation as an essential resource for grassroots activists, community leaders, scholars, policy makers and others working to bring lasting social and economic change to the region.
- National Association of Secretaries of State: NASS serves as a medium for the exchange of information between states and fosters cooperation in the development of public policy. The association has key initiatives in the areas of elections and voting and state business services, as well as several well-established awards programs.
The following reporters and journalists are frequent writers about all things voting rights. This list will be helpful in pitching a story or even just figuring out who to follow. Available contact information and Twitter handles are included.
The Huffington Post
National News Reporter,
Writer, Washington Bureau,
Associate Editor & Columnist,
The Washington Post
The Plum Line,
The Washington Post
Here are a handful of hashtags to follow on social media, keeping you up to date on trending voting rights topics.
Key Federal Voting Rights Legislation
- Voting Rights Amendment Act: A bipartisan bill introduced on January 16, 2014 in the last Congress, the Voting Rights Amendment Act of 2014 (H.R.3899/S.1945), includes many elements of an effective approach. A new version is expected to be introduced in the coming months. For specifics, please see the Advancement Project and Leadership Conference's summaries and stay tuned for more information on the forthcoming bill.
- Voter Empowerment Act: Originially introduced by Rep. John Lewis in 2013 and reintroduced in the 114th Congress this bill aims to increase accessibility, accountability, and integrity in the electoral process. Key components include modernizing voter registration efforts with reforms like online, same-day, and automatic voter registration. Additionally, it seeks to to remove practices that interfere with a person’s right to cast a ballot. The Brennan Center has a good summary here, and check out this fact sheet and section-by-section summary.
- Democracy Restoration Act: This bill, introduced by Rep. John Conyers and Sen. Ben Cardin, seeks to restore voting rights in federal elections to the 4.4 million disenfranchised Americans who have been released from prison and are living in the community, but are still denied the right to vote despite having paid their debt to society. Be sure to check out the Brennan Center summary and fact sheet for more information.
- Right to Vote Constitutional Amendment: Introduced by Reps. Keith Ellison and Mark Pocan, this proposed amendment would establish an explicit right to vote in the Constitution. Take a look atFairVote's bill summary for more information.
Opportunities for Reform
These categories for reform encompass the scope of the work on voting rights nationally and in states. There are already many efforts in states to bring these reforms to fruition. Please reach out or stay tuned for more information on ways your organization can involved!
Additionally, take a look at Project Vote's new Spring 2015 Legislative Threats and Opportunities for a detailed look at the voting rights landscape.
- Re-Enfranchisement of Previously Incarcerated Citizens: According to the Sentencing Project, nationally, an estimated 5.85 million Americans are denied the right to vote because of laws that prohibit voting by people with felony convictions. Felony disenfranchisement is an obstacle to participation in democratic life which is exacerbated by racial disparities in the criminal justice system, resulting in 1 of every 13 African Americans unable to vote. Project Vote has a great background primer on the issue andAdvancement Project has been heavily involved in this effort in Virginia. Current legislative examples are ongoing in Maryland and Minnesota.
- Voter ID Expansion and Repeal: Every voter should demonstrate that they are who they say they are before voting. That form of proof should not include restrictive documentation requirements like overly burdensome photo ID or redundant proof of citizenship requirements that serve to block millions of eligible American citizens from voting. Check out the Brennan Center's voter ID page for more information.
- Vote by Mail/No Excuse Absentee: Convenience voting, defined as access to voting at a time and place of the voter’s choosing, has grown exponentially in the United States within the last two decades. A majority of states now permit “no-fault” or “no excuse” absentee voting, early in person voting, and vote-by-mail (VBM), and it is estimated that approximately one-third of all voters in the 2008 general election took advantage of some form of early voting. Learn more from Project Vote.
- Early Voting: Early voting provides a means for eligible voters to cast their ballots at a time and location other than in person on Election Day. Visit this explainer from Demos to learn more about the different types of early voting.
- Automatic/Universal Registration (New Motor Voter): Automatic registration shifts the burden of voter registration from the individual to the state. States could automatically register eligible voters to vote at any opportunity where government agencies are in a position to verify a person’s residence and eligibility. Individuals could decline to register and protections would be built in to ensure only eligible citizens are registered. Data from the USPS, DMV, Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and other agencies could be used to generate voter lists, and automatically update voter registrations of existing voters whenever they move. This was recently enacted in Oregon and introduced in California. Check out Demos' explainer in their report, Millions to the Polls, for more information.
- Pre-Registration: States with pre-registration laws enable young people to register as future voters, even if they won’t turn 18 before Election Day. Voters are then automatically registered once they turn 18. Allowing future voters to pre-register before they turn 18 — for example, when they first get a driver’s license — is an important policy to ensure that every voter is registered and able to vote as soon as she is eligible. Click here for more information from the Brennan Center.
- Online Registration: Like many other ways that people use the Internet, voters with access to an online voter registration system can check and update their registration status, as well as check their voting location. Using a computer to update existing voter registrations—to change an address, for example—is particularly easy and efficient. Demos explored this in their report, Millions to the Polls.
- Same/Election Day Registration: Same Day Registration (SDR) allows eligible voters to register to vote and cast their ballots on the same day. Depending on the state, this one-stop process for registering and voting may be offered on Election Day, during the early voting period, or both. Click here to read more about this from Demos.
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