Voting Rights: A Key Factor in 2024 Turnout
Credit: New Georgia Project
A deciding factor in how many youth, voters of color, and other marginalized voters turn out in 2024 will be: who is allowed to vote.
A Wake-Up Call: Why Funders Must Act Now on Voting Rights
There is a highly-organized, anti-democratic movement in this country, and they are using every tool in the book to diminish the basic voting rights so many have struggled and given their lives for:
- Aggressively purging voter rolls;
- Enacting restrictive voter laws at a near-record pace;
- Gerrymandering: contorting voting districts so that the politicians “choose their voters”;
- Even defying the US Supreme Court by denying fair representation to voters of color.
Local grassroots organizations are leading the charge to fight back and expand the right to vote, and we have an urgent opportunity now to level up our support for their crucial work.
Here are some of the most essential voting rights campaigns of 2023.
Continuing an aggressive, decade-long voter purge campaign, Georgia’s Secretary of State is preparing to remove 102,000 voters from the rolls unless they respond within 40 days.
Across the board, our grassroots partners in Georgia are struggling to close budget gaps this year. Now, in order to fight back against this voter purge, they are being forced to divert precious time, money, and energy toward voter texting, calling, and data maintenance. As of this publication, the MVF Capacity Building Team is strategizing with our State Advising Team (which manages our grantmaking strategy) about how we might help cover these costs.
It cannot be stated enough how crucial this effort is. In 2018, APM Reports found that a similar purge resulted in the unjust disenfranchisement of tens of thousands of legitimate voters.
In Illinois and Oregon, our partners Chicago Votes Education Fund and Next Up Oregon respectively are both engaged in multi-year campaigns to expand voting rights to people in prison, a model for universal suffrage which is currently only in place in Vermont and Maine.
While neither bills in these states passed this legislative session, each cleared important hurdles, and both groups are dedicated to building on this progress and carrying it forward next session.
In Minnesota, partners including the multiracial faith coalition ISAIAH helped pass:
- House File 28, which has now restored voting rights to over 55,000 voters on parole, probation, or community release due to a felony conviction; and,
- The Democracy for the People Act, enabling automatic voter registration, pre-registration for 16-year olds, strengthens public campaign financing, creates a permanent absentee voter list, and more.
This spring, New Mexico passed the New Mexico Voting Rights Act, which MVF partners such as Organizers in the Land of Enchantment (OLÉ) and Native American Rights Fund have been organizing around for over a decade.
The legislation includes automatic voter registration; a “voluntary permanent absentee voter list,” enabling voters to automatically get a mail-in ballot before every statewide election; automatic voting rights restoration for returning citizens (immediately re-enfranchising over 11,000 New Mexicans); and the Native American Voting Rights Act, which will enable many more Native Americans to easily vote in future elections.
NM Secretary of State Oliver points out that this bill exceeded last year’s stalled proposals, “because it has really been spearheaded and brought to life by the advocacy community.”
As OLÉ organizer and returning citizen Justin Allen wrote for Newsweek: “This isn’t merely a political issue. It’s a matter of public safety, racial justice, and evidence-based policy.”
Nevada partners, including Silver State Voices, have now successfully helped pass Assembly Bill 286, which will allow eligible incarcerated voters to exercise their right to vote, including those awaiting trial or release, through an electronic system for absentee voting which has already been in use for military and overseas Nevada voters.
The Let Nevadans Vote coalition, which is led by and housed with MVF partner Silver State Voices and which includes other MVF partners Make the Road Nevada and Asian Community Development Council, took the lead to pass this bill.
Emancipate NC, along with coalition allies, spent Summer and Fall 2022 working to educate and register formerly-incarcerated people to vote, after a ground-breaking court decision temporarily re-enfranchised these citizens.
The Justice League, Emancipate’s leadership development program for people personally impacted by structural racism and mass incarceration, played a significant role in planning parties, rallies, and information sessions around the state.
Unfortunately, after regressive forces overtook the North Carolina judiciary, the court decision was abruptly overturned, once again disenfranchising an estimated 56,000 voters.
This deeply unjust act of voter suppression demonstrates the need for continued organizing — and investment from pro-democracy funders — for basic civil rights in North Carolina.
Closing: Keep Our Eyes on the Prize
These are just some of the many inspiring victories, heartbreaking defeats, and ongoing struggles which grassroots partners are organizing tirelessly around, all across the country.
On a deep level, the right to vote is about the right to be heard, and to matter. And on a practical level, our partners’ long-term success is what will determine our ability to have a truly representative government.
Whether or not a given campaign is successful, we as funders must do two things: Invest early, and keep our eyes on the prize. Every dollar we invest now, every organization we support, every organizer we uplift, builds voter engagement and grassroots momentum going into the 2024 election and beyond.
As anti-democratic state legislatures keep pushing forward to restrict voting rights, the question keeping us up at night is: Will more democracy funders step up and tip the scales?