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Strengthening Democracy Through Election Integrity

The Advancement Project

Strengthening Democracy Through Election Integrity

During every election season people in cities and towns across the country take the time to exercise their right to vote, to let their voices be heard. Yet, sadly, every election season, tens of thousands of voices are silenced because of problems that could have been avoided. A study of the 2000 presidential elections, conducted by Caltech and MIT, found that between 4 and 6 million votes, or approximately 4 to 6% of the total votes cast, were lost to preventable problems in the elections process. Even worse, data clearly shows that voters are losing faith in our election system - more than 1 in 5 Americans question whether their vote in the last presidential election was counted fairly. Widespread systemic problems persist, reducing public confidence in the integrity of our elections, and more broadly threatening the health of the American democracy.

Democracy Alliance (DA), a partnership of philanthropic donors committed to strengthening democracy and creating a more progressive America, recognized the critical importance of taking immediate action to address the area of election administration reform. Research indicated that this area of work was significantly under funded, and would benefit from more strategic and sustained funding. DA worked with others in the funding community including Carnegie Corporation of New York, the Open Society Institute and the HKH Foundation to develop a funder collaborative to deliver early support to groups working to strengthen democracy and to protect the integrity of U.S. elections.

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The fundamental goal of the Election Administration Fund is to achieve permanent legal and infrastructure changes in the American electoral system that will help strengthen democracy in the long-term. In addition to helping drive early support to election reform efforts taking place, the DA and other funders identified the critical importance of developing a mechanism, in the form of a collaborative table of organizations, that would help avoid duplicative efforts, develop joint messaging, and facilitate sharing of best practices.

The primary focus of the collaborative table is facilitating early coordination among various aspects of work in the field, including: legal strategy; local and state implementation of important election administration reform; local and state voter education; and county-level voter registration and poll work. Organizations like the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University, the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights, Project Vote, and the Advancement Project, were identified as groups doing critical work to help protect the vote. They are among approximately twenty groups who have been supported by the Election Administration Fund and been partners at the collaborative table. Other organizations include the League of Women Voters Education Fund, Common Cause Education Fund, National Association of Elected and Appointed Officials, and New American Media.

Coordination among the many different types of election reform work (legal organizing and litigation, voter education, work with elections officials, etc.) is critical to ensuring that election administration problems are stemmed and that all votes are counted. The short-term work aims to enfranchise millions of voters, and most importantly the collaborative effort will support far-reaching and long-term structural reforms to secure the integrity of elections in the United States.

Whether it is progress in the courts, state based efforts to address structural deficiencies in the election system, or informing elected officials, the news media and the public of problems in the system, the goal is to strengthen democracy and protect the integrity of our elections. In particular, the focus is to ensure that organizations are better funded, more strategic, more coordinated, and more effective.

A sad, but shining example of the results of this early work can be found in reverberations of the financial crisis. The New York Times wrote recently about the impact of home foreclosures on the right to vote, and the likely residency challenges to voters who have lost their homes. It has been many years since there were property requirements to voting, and because of the early work that has been done by the organizations noted above, and in particular Advancement Project, necessary protections are in place to ensure that those who have lost their homes don't also lose the ability to exercise their right to vote.

Further impacts of the early work and efforts can be seen around the country. In Florida, organizations working together won a preliminary injunction to block a "no match, no vote" law, which would have kept 16,000 eligible voters from being added to the voting rolls. Coordinated effort of the groups stopped a voter ID bill in Missouri that would have disenfranchised thousands of voters.

Election administration plans now exist in states around the country, legal trainings with local groups in Ohio and Missouri have already been conducted, and "Voter Protection" volunteer training materials have been prepared for Florida, Michigan, Missouri, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Virginia.

Organizations have worked together on earned media and editorial strategies to call attention to election protection and election administration issues and help generate public pressure to ensure that the problems that create challenges on Election Day are fixed before Election Day. These efforts are also helping to highlight and prevent the execution of under-the-radar voter suppression efforts that may occur across the country.

Thanks to support from committed donors and the work of diligent organizers, attorneys, advocates, and public officials, this important work to repair an ailing election system will help give voices to millions around the country, and will lay the foundation for lasting and meaningful election reform in the years to come.

Ashindi Maxton is Director of Research and Special Projects at Democracy Alliance. Alexandra Visher is Communications Director at Democracy Alliance.


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