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Carnegie Corporation of New York
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There is a new urgency today for American philanthropies to protect the right to vote for all eligible citizens. The philanthropic community has worked alongside the government to protect these rights for decades, but since a 2013 Supreme Court ruling eliminated key parts of the Voting Rights Act, there has been a dramatic increase across the country in barriers to voting. These new barriers often disproportionately affect low-income voters, rural voters, communities of color, young people, and people with disabilities.
American philanthropies now have an opportunity to protect and strengthen U.S. democracy by providing badly needed investments in the country’s voting infrastructure, paying attention to these issues beyond election time, and joining with others to support litigation against illegal voting barriers.
INVEST IN CORE SUPPORT AND INFRASTRUCTURE. Since the 2013 Shelby County vs. Holder ruling opened space for new voter suppression efforts, organizations working on voting rights have faced unprecedented pressure. They monitor elections, support targeted populations, advocate for voter friendly policies, and bring legal action when needed. To continue to effectively tackle their mission, these organizations need to strengthen their staffing, infrastructure, and technology. They also need expanded support to collaborate with those at the local, state, and national levels.
DON’T THINK ABOUT THESE ISSUES ONLY AT ELECTION TIME. Voter protection is a year-round issue every year. Groups need sustained, multiyear funding so they are ready for every election and the years in between. In fact, the in-between years are often when state and local efforts aim to quietly weaken or remove voter protections without an election-driven public or media spotlight. What’s more, hiring organizers and staffing up for elections only to let people go right after is an inefficient cycle that hinders potential results for many groups.
SUPPORT LITIGATION. Litigation groups have successfully challenged countless new restrictions in recent years, protecting the voting rights of eligible Americans that are people of color, younger, from rural areas, or reflect other underrepresented groups. Litigation has proven its worth as a critical tool for protecting voting rights—but it is expensive. Groups filing strong cases need data, technology, expert witnesses, and experienced attorneys. Legal issues around a fair and accurate 2020 census may strain these groups, and more support will be needed to help strengthen our foundational democratic institutions.
SUPPORT COLLABORATION, INCLUDING AMONG FUNDERS. Grantmakers can trigger unhealthy competition among voting rights groups when they set out to “pick winners” and when they emphasize and reward grantees’ stand-alone victories. Voting rights organizations get better, more sustainable results when they work together. Equally, funders should “walk the walk” and work together to align their investments and broaden their impact. For example, the State Infrastructure Fund has become a powerful venue for funders to come together and collaboratively develop their understanding of the issue and support the movement.
Over the years, advocates for voting rights have employed a variety of tools and strategies to advance and protect the votes of all Americans. These include: