6 Big Fights Against Voter Suppression That Neither Party Wants You To Know About
There is one important truth about the state of US politics, and that is an increasing number of Americans understand that the system is rigged to put the interests of two private political parties and special interests first.
The political establishment knows it. The media knows it. But, they don’t want the people to know it.
They don’t want people to know that there are literally hundreds of organizations across the country working to unrig our political duopoly. They don’t want you to know that the monumental growth in these movements is setting the stage for another big election year in nonpartisan reform.
And they don’t want the people to know about the efforts going on right now to fight voter suppression and disenfranchisement in cities and states across the US. Here are 6 of these fights the people need to know about:
1. Ranked Choice Voting Coming to New York City? Massachusetts? Alaska?
There is not a reform with greater momentum right now than ranked choice voting voting (RCV), the alternative voting method that allows voters to rank candidates on the ballot in order of preference, and ensures that the winner of the election garners majority support from voters.
RCV is currently used in 13 cities, the state of Maine, is slated to be implemented in 7 additional cities, and is expected to be used in two Democratic caucuses (Iowa and Nevada) and 4 Democratic primaries (Alaska, Hawaii, Kansas, and Wyoming) in the 2020 presidential election.
Update 08/26/2019: The Maine Legislature approved a bill that adds ranked choice voting to the 2020 presidential primary and will decide how members of the Electoral College will vote.
Since its historic passage in Maine, RCV has exploded in popularity. Along with several ongoing efforts to get the reform on the ballot, the nation’s largest city, Massachusetts, and Alaska could soon join the list of RCV users.
New York City
In November, New York City voters will have an opportunity to approve the use of RCV for citywide elections by voting yes on Question 1. The initiative would give NYC voters the opportunity to rank up to 5 candidates in order of preference for mayor, public advocate, comptroller, borough president, and City Council -- starting in 2021.
“Far too often, our primary and special elections produce winners with less than 50% of the vote. In the last three election cycles in New York City, sixty-three percent of multi-candidate primaries were won with less than 50% of the vote, 30% were won with less than 40%, and nearly 10% were won with less than 30%,” the Ranked Choice Voting to NYC campaign states.
“This means the majority of our elected officials win their primaries — which virtually guarantees election in November — without majority support in their districts from the primaries. That’s not really democratic representation.”
With a population that exceeds 8 million, NYC would be the most populous jurisdiction -- city or state -- to use ranked choice voting in the US. Common Cause NY has spearheaded the RCV initiative, with the help of other local organizations and nonpartisan reform groups like Represent New York.
Inspired by Maine’s RCV success, Voter Choice Massachusetts (Voter Choice MA) has grown into the largest state-based campaign to pass RCV at a statewide level. The group has made great strides in educating voters and state policymakers on the need for RCV reform.
On July 16, 300 activists and voters participated in Voter Choice MA’s Lobby Day at the state capitol building in support of two bills to bring RCV to Massachusetts. The first bill, An Act Relative to Ranked Choice Voting, would implement ranked choice voting all state and non-presidential federal races for the primary and general elections. The second would give local jurisdictions the option to adopt ranked choice voting for municipal elections.
"The groundswell of support for RCV we are seeing in every corner of the
Commonwealth is truly awe-inspiring,” said Mac D'Alessandro, State Director of Voter Choice Massachusetts.
“We’re talking to voters every day, just like you, who want to have a stronger voice and more choice when they go to the polls. With our supporters inside and outside the State House, we've grown into the strongest statewide RCV movement in the country and we're going to continue to fight for a stronger democracy by bringing RCV to Massachusetts."
Both bills are currently before the Joint Committee on Election Laws. The next step will be a committee hearing, where advocates will be able to testify on their support for RCV.
Voter Choice MA has touted broad bipartisan support among legislators, but they are not putting all their eggs in that single basket. The organization also submitted a ballot initiative to the Massachusetts attorney general on August 7 to put ranked choice voting on the ballot in 2020.
"We look forward to building our campaign and continuing our work advocating for RCV as an important step to give voters more choices and a stronger voice at the ballot box and guarantee our elected leaders are supported by a true majority," said Emily Fitzmaurice, Communications Director for Voter Choice MA.
A campaign in Alaska is working on a more comprehensive ballot initiative for better elections. Alaskans for Better Elections launched a ballot committee to put three specific reforms before voters:
- End “dark money” in Alaska elections;
- Open primaries to all voters; and
- Implement ranked choice voting
Alaska has a primary system that allows the parties to decide who can participate in their primary elections. Voters, particularly the state’s independent voters, are denied meaningful choice and are forced to pick a single party’ ballot and pick from only that party’s candidates.
The Alaskans for Better Elections initiative proposes a nonpartisan primary where all voters receive a single primary ballot with all ballot qualified candidates listed for each race, regardless of party affiliation.
The initiative also implements ranked choice voting so that no candidate is allowed to win an election without at least 50% plus one of the vote.
The campaign argues for increased civility in elections under RCV, as candidates are encouraged to campaign outside their base support for voters’ second or third choice. This discourages candidates from attacking each other if they have to appeal to each other’s supporters.
2. Fighting Voter Suppression Tactics in California
When we talk about voter suppression, it is important to note that voter suppression can take various forms.
But there are deeper systemic barriers to representative democracy -- both in Democratic and Republican dominated states -- that don’t get as much attention when we talk about suppressing the voting rights of certain voters.
The Independent Voter Project (IVP) filed a lawsuit in July with 6 other plaintiffs against California Secretary of State Alex Padilla for failing to provide an open presidential primary that is required by the California Constitution.
Instead, California conducts a complex and confusing semi-closed primary process that disenfranchises over 6 million registered independent voters and voters mistakenly registered with a political party by denying them a meaningful vote.
LEARN MORE: Voters v. California Secretary of State
All taxpayers pay for these elections, so by conducting a semi-closed presidential primary, California is giving the two largest private political corporations a clear advantage in the public elections process at the expense of millions of voters who are denied their nonpartisan right to a meaningful vote for president.
Depending on which party is in power of a given state, there are systematic attempts to undermine the will of any voter that does not belong to the party in power. THAT is why both parties gerrymander districts.
And that is why California recently passed a bill, SB 27, requiring candidates to disclose their tax returns to appear on the presidential primary ballot.
President Trump isn’t going to win California. The California Republican primary will have ZERO effect on whether Trump gets the nomination. But the Democratic Party can lower turnout among Republicans for races up and down the state by keeping him off the ballot.
Republicans who would be drawn to the polls to cast a ballot for President Trump will likely not have that chance in March 2020. The lawsuits challenging the law say it adds a qualification that goes beyond the constitutional requirements to run for president and it violates the First and Fourteenth Amendment rights of millions of California voters.
The last point is important because this crucial argument against SB 27 is at the core of IVP’s complaint against the state’s semi-closed presidential primary: The rights of millions of voters to a meaningful and equal voice in presidential elections should not be taken away or denied because of a citizen's political affiliation or who he or she chooses to support.
SB 27 will just add more than 4 million voters to the already 6 million voters who are denied their nonpartisan right to a meaningful vote in California’s presidential primary process.
For over 5 years now, the California Secretary of State has been aware of IVP’s solution to give California a presidential primary that protects every voter’s right to vote and the right of private political parties to conduct their own presidential primaries -- the public ballot option.
Yet, neither he nor the California Legislature have taken action to ensure the broadly reported and criticized problems of the 2016 presidential primary don’t happen again in 2020.
3. Michigan GOP Tries to Kill A Voter-Approved Citizens Redistricting Commission, But Is Getting Pushback
In November 2018, Michigan voters overwhelmingly approved the Voters Not Politicians initiative Proposal 2 to create a 13-member citizens' redistricting commission comprised of 4 Republicans, 4 Democrats, and 5 voters not affiliated with either major party.
It was one of four major midterm victories in the ongoing effort to combat partisan gerrymandering .
The path to get on the ballot was not without its hurdles. Republican insiders turned to the courts to try to force Proposal 2 off the ballot. However, the Michigan Supreme Court dismissed the complaint and voters approved the initiative in the general election.
The citizens’ redistricting commission established under Proposal 2 came with some restrictions on who is eligible to serve on it. Anyone who has run or served in elected office, was an officer for a political party, worked as a registered lobbyist, or worked for the legislature in the past six years is ineligible to serve on the commission, along with their family members.
These eligibility restrictions are the subject of another lawsuit filed by partisan insiders in an attempt to get the citizens’ redistricting commission scrapped completely, and return redistricting power back to the Republican-controlled legislature ahead of the 2020 census.
Fifteen Republicans are listed as plaintiffs, all are ineligible to serve on the commission under the eligibility rules.
“It’s no surprise that politicians – who directly benefit from drawing their own election maps and choosing their own voters – want to undermine the voice of voters again,” said Jamie Lyons-Eddy, director of Campaigns and Programs for Voters Not Politicians. “We’re confident that the proposal will survive any and all legal challenges, just as it did from many of these same politicians on the way to the ballot.”
Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel filed a brief in federal court on Monday, August 19, asking the judge to drop the lawsuit.
“The problem that the people of the State of Michigan sought to address with the amendment was the partisanship with which legislative districts were being drawn, and the solution they chose was to take that power out of the hands of people with a direct interest in the outcome,” Nessel argues.
She further argues that despite plaintiffs’ claim that these eligibility restrictions violate their First and Fourteenth Amendment rights, the rules are “no different than excluding people from jury duty who have a relationship to the parties or have a stake in the outcome of the case.”
As attorney general, Nessel is representing Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, the named defendant in the lawsuit.
4. More Than 550K Signatures Submitted to Adopt Nonpartisan Open Primaries in Florida
3.7 million independent voters could soon be included in primary elections in one of the nation's biggest battleground states. Primary reform advocates are attempting to put the nonpartisan, top-two open primary on the 2020 ballot in Florida to ensure every voter gets an equal and meaningful vote at all stages of the taxpayer-funded elections process.
The group All Voters Vote has submitted 557,154 of the 766,200 valid signatures needed to put the initiative for statewide and legislative elections on the statewide ballot. A judicial review of the initiative is currently underway.
All Voters Vote submitted another initiative to replace the state’s closed primaries for US Senate and House with a nonpartisan open primary as well. However, right now the campaign’s focus is on the state elections initiative.
This, however, is not the only effort going on right now in the state to open primary elections to independent voters. The state-based open primaries group Florida Fair and Open Primaries is working with Independent Voting and their Eyes on 2020 campaign to get the major parties to agree to voluntarily open their primaries to independent voters.
What many voters don’t know is that the parties have the right to open their primary elections, regardless of state law. And at the county level, opening the 2020 presidential primary has gained significant ground within the Democratic Party.
The Miami-Dade Democratic Party passed a resolution in support of allowing non-party affiliated voters to participate in the Democratic primaries. Brevard, Santa Rosa, and Monroe counties soon followed, and Broward and Hillsborough are actively discussing it, according to Steve Hough, director of Florida Fair and Open Primaries.
The Florida Democratic Party’s Rules Committee has announced its own recommendation: A weak “compromise” that would allow independent voters to participate in the party’s primaries, but only if they update their voter registration on primary election day to be registered Democrats.
In other words, instead of backing open primaries, the party’s rules committee is simply recommending same-day registration, which would still force independent voters to change their party affiliation as a condition to participate in the taxpayer-funded primary elections.
5. Brand New Voting Method Coming to St. Louis?
In 2018, Fargo, North Dakota, made history by becoming the first city to adopt approval voting for local elections. Approval voting is an alternative voting method that gives voters the option to choose as many candidates on the ballot as they want.
Now, the Center for Election Science is working on a new ballot initiative campaign in St. Louis, Missouri to bring the new voting method to city voters in 2020. According to information provided by the campaign, 8 city elections in the last two years have been decided with less than 37% of the vote.
The Center for Election Science (CES), a nationally-based organization "dedicated to creating a better world through studying and advancing smarter voting methods," provided an initial $75,000 grant to the local grassroots group STL Approves to help the signature gathering process to get approval voting on the ballot. As of this writing, STL Approves has collected 4,000 of the 20,000 needed by spring 2020.
CES says it will also conduct the educational outreach in the city to ensure that voters understand the benefits of approval voting and why it is needed.
"It's exciting to see the enthusiasm for approval voting in St. Louis. Approval voting shows off its versatility with its ability to address the pervasive vote splitting that's long been present in local primaries. It's yet another reminder of how straightforward approval voting is as a solution for cities and states across the country,” said Aaron Hamlin, executive director of The Center for Election Science.
6. A 600-Mile Walk to End Political Corruption
Could you imagine walking over 600 miles? How about walking from Atlanta, Georgia, to Washington, DC for a cause?
That is the journey Ronaldo Pearson began on August 6, 2019, to raise the 911 alarm on the US democratic process. Pearson is the Director of External Affairs for RepresentUs, the nation’s largest grassroots anti-corruption movement.
Pearson and RepresentUS recognize that the American democratic process is in crisis -- from foreign threats to polling location closures to voter purges to outdated voting machines to the fact that most Americans no longer have confidence or trust in the government to produce solutions.
This, along with other examples, is why Pearson says he is walking from Atlanta to the steps of the Capitol Building -- to revitalize the spirit of the generation that marched for civil rights in the 1950s and 1960 and raise awareness of these alarming realities in our political and electoral processes:.
“We will start at the final resting place of Dr. King and in the city where the infamous 2018 election purges and voter suppression made the state ground zero in our fight. We will walk for just under two months, more than 600 miles, an action commensurate with the scale and severity of this crisis, and when we arrive, we will sit on the steps of the United States Capitol until our demands for democracy — protecting our right to vote, making elections secure and competitive and ending political corruption — are heard."
RepresentUs has 3 demands in particular::
- Protect Our Right to Vote
- Make Elections Secure and Competitive
- End Political Corruption
The #Democracy911 journey will take Pearson 50 total days to complete. He says once he and others on his team arrive in Washington, DC, they will sit on the capitol steps until their demands are met.
“We must ask ourselves: what will our excuse be for the next generation if we do not repair our broken democracy? Or, will we, like our grandparents before us, lay our lives on the line for the principles this country was built upon?“ Pearson writes.
RepresentUs’ Grassroots Communication Manager, Ellen Moorhouse, also joined me in a recent podcast to discuss the grassroots tour of the organization’s short film, Unbreaking America, featuring actress Jennifer Lawrence, which examines the root cause of our greatest political problems, and the solution RepresentUs is proposing to unrig the system: The American Anti-Corruption Act.
Listen to the full interview:
About the Author
Shawn is an election reform expert and National Editor of IVN.us. He studied history and philosophy at the University of North Texas. He joined the IVN team in 2012.