It is hard to argue that the US electoral system does not need fixing: fewer than 62 percent of eligible Americans voted in the 2012 election and approximately 50 million eligible voters are not even registered. Marginalization from the electoral process is particularly acute for people of color, low-income people, and youth. In 2012, more than eight million eligible Latinos were not registered to vote. And corporations exert an ever-larger influence on who wins elections.
To make the situation worse, recent years have seen a national attack on access to the franchise. In 2012, conservatives in cities and states all over the country promoted an onslaught of new voting policies, most of which were designed to keep minorities and low-income voters away from the polls. Voter ID laws, reductions in early voting days, and increased restrictions on third-party registration have created an obstacle course of challenges for many voters. These voter suppression efforts were only exacerbated by the Shelby decision, which nearly gutted section 5 of the 1965 Voting Rights Act.
Every two years, the progressive community spends millions of dollars registering and turning out voters. In the 2012 cycle, millions more were spent fighting restrictive voting laws. Nothing will ever replace the importance of direct voter contact, but if we want to significantly strengthen democracy and voting rights (and win progressive victories at the ballot box and in our legislatures) we need a dualistic strategy that makes systemic policy changes to electoral systems and simultaneously mobilizes our base.
While most election reform work focuses on the state level, Local Progress focuses on localities. Counties are often the government entities that operate the election machinery: they execute the state’s mandates and there is room for them to perform their operations more or less successfully. Furthermore, the resources and instrumentalities of localities (both cities and counties) can be used to register and mobilize voters. And, in some instances, localities can set the ground rules—including the campaign finance rules – for their own local elections.
At Local Progress, we want to help move the progressive community from a defensive posture to an offensive one and propel major policy shifts that make for a more open and accessible democracy. For more information, click here.