Safeguarding Elections through Advocacy and Reform

As chronicled by organizations such as the Brennan Center for Justice and Voting Rights Lab, 2021 saw more legislation introduced pertaining to voting rights and election administration than ever before. The attempt to fundamentally change elections is not likely to let up in 2022, as this New York Times article mentions: “After passing 33 laws of voting limits in 19 states this year, Republicans in at least five states — Florida, Tennessee, South Carolina, Oklahoma and New Hampshire — have filed bills before the next legislative sessions have even started that seek to restrict voting in some way, including by limiting mail voting. In over 20 states, more than 245 similar bills put forward this year could be carried into 2022…” Advocacy and electoral reform are both essential in safeguarding every individual’s right to vote, as well as the efficacy of elections in general.

According to 2018 data from the US Census Bureau, about one in four eligible Americans are not registered to vote. A separate Pew poll found that a majority of respondents had never even been asked to register. This, coupled with the unprecedented effort to pass restrictive voting legislation, is prompting creativity amongst voting advocacy organizations. The WIN Network’s recent workshop ‘Assuring the Right to Vote for Everyone’ highlighted medical waiting rooms as unlikely, yet effective, places to promote voter registration.

In 2008, the National Association of Community Health Centers began a campaign to register voters in health clinics. Across hundreds of clinics, they registered 18,000 patients ahead of the 2008 election and 25,000 ahead of the 2012 election. Other unique places voting registration activists have seen success include in front of stores and supermarkets, concert venues, and schools and universities.

The WIN Network has put together a Voting Advocacy Action Plan to help individuals find concrete ways to help ensure equitable voting access for all.

Advocacy is only one piece of the puzzle; electoral reforms can also help to safeguard elections. One reason nearly half of the nation’s eligible voters abstain from casting a ballot in any given election is because our winner takes all system often strongarms voters into choosing (in their minds) the lesser of two evils. Ranked-choice voting (RCV) looks to upend this dilemma by increasing voter choice and therefore participation.

A ranked-choice voting system is one in which voters rank candidates by preference. Through multiple rounds of winnowing, the candidate with the broadest appeal is declared the winner. The idea of a ranked choice style system has been around for 150 years but has gained national momentum in recent years. According to FairVote, “As of November 2021, 43 jurisdictions used RCV in their most recent elections, and more than 50 jurisdictions are projected to use RCV in their next election.”

Arguably the most high-profile use of RCV was in New York City’s 2021 mayoral and council election. New York City’s first ever use of ranked-choice voting resulted in the city’s most diverse city council ever. Using a ranked choice voting system, New York City voters elected the 2nd Black mayor in city history and the first majority female city council, including the first South Asian American, first Muslim woman, and first Black gay woman to the council.

Additional findings from New York City’s first use of RCV include:

  • 85% ranked at least 2 candidates for the mayoral primary
  • 71% ranked at least 2 candidates for the city council primary
  • 53% reported it gave them the opportunity to support multiple candidates
  • 47% reported they could vote their values more accurately
  • 45% reported they had a higher say in who was elected
  • 94% found the ballots simple to use
  • 80% understood the system well
  • 77% wanted to continue using the system

Currently a ranked-choice voting system is being used, on some level, in twenty-six states. This recent FairVote webinar highlighted other RCV milestones from 2021.

In a political landscape where legislative efforts to restrict voting and alter election administration are commonplace, both advocacy and structural reform are necessary.

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