MEMO: States Are Leading the Fight to Strengthen Our Democracy

Mika Hyer, mhyer@lcv.org, 940-783-2230

To: Interested Parties

From: Justin Kwasa, Voting Rights Program Director

As November quickly approaches, and with 2024 on the horizon, state legislatures and governors are leading the fight to expand access to the ballot box and ensuring the voices of communities who face the greatest barriers to the ballot box are heard — including voters of color, elderly and young voters, voters with disabilities, and voters with low wealth. Record numbers of voters in communities across the country overcame targeted barriers to vote in 2020, and now, election deniers and proponents of the Big Lie are committed to silence voters in communities historically disenfranchised in our democracy.

LCV and its state affiliates, collectively the Conservation Voters Movement (CVM), prioritize the fight to strengthen our democracy, recognizing that we can’t have a healthy environment without a healthy democracy. 

Below, we’ve compiled how LCV’s state affiliates have helped pass legislation to strengthen our democracy in 2022, fought racist redistricting efforts, stopped bad bills from disenfranchising voters, and championed ballot initiatives in November. The states in the League of Conservation Voters’ Conservation Voter Movement (CVM) and Chispa program are leading efforts for a healthier democracy through organizing, advocacy, and work within communities who are too often excluded from having a say in our country.

MAJOR LEGISLATION PASSED TO ENSURE MORE EQUITABLE VOTING:

Massachusetts — Major Voting Reform Passed!

Massachusetts passed one of the largest electoral reform bills in the country with the VOTES Act, which will permanently and more equitably expand voting rights for Bay Staters. Amidst ongoing public health challenges, no-excuse mail-in voting and early in-person voting are crucial for voters to be able to fully and safely participate in the electoral process. The Environmental League of Massachusetts worked with coalition partners to pass this bill, and together are now running a public awareness campaign for Bay Staters to know their expanded voting rights through the VOTES Act, including:

  • Permanent vote-by-mail, same-day voter registration, in-person early voting;
  • Increased accessibility for eligible incarcerated citizens;
  • More time to register to vote — voter registration deadlines cut in half from 20 days before the election to 10 days.

Vermont — Expanded Voting Access Passed!

Vermont passed Senate Bill 15, which will expand voting rights through permanent vote-by-mail, notice requirements for voters with ballot errors to “cure” their ballot, and provisions to support socially distant outdoor polling places and drive-up voting. These new provisions continue Vermont’s progress toward making voting as easy and accessible as possible for Vermonters, along with existing automatic voter registration, online voter registration, same-day voter registration, and early in-person voting in the state. Vermont Conservation Voters’ next step is focusing on public education for this new vote-by-mail option to make sure that every Vermonter has equitable access to vote-by-mail.

Connecticut — Expanded Vote-By-Mail Access Passed!

Voting in Connecticut is more equitable after measures passed to expand vote-by-mail. This year, Governor Lamont signed Public Act 22-2 into law, which would expand access to absentee ballots by allowing out-of-town commuters and caretakers to vote-by-mail. The legislation was passed thanks especially to the leadership of Connecticut LCV in the CT State Vote Coalition, and partners are now gathering support to pass a constitutional amendment to expand early voting this fall (See ‘Ballot Initiatives to Watch’ below).

Oregon — Expanded Online Voter Registration!

Earlier this year, Oregon passed House Bill 4133, legislation to expand access to online voter registration for voters without a DMV record by allowing them to use their Social Security number to register. This law was supported by the Oregon League of Conservation Voters, and is a major win for voters without a drivers license, eliminating a key barrier to register to vote for elderly voters, voters with disabilities, and voters who simply do not have a license to drive.  

Alaska — Instituted Ranked Choice Voting!

On August 16, thousands of Alaskans had the opportunity to rank candidates for the first time in the state primary after Alaskans voted to approve ranked choice voting in statewide elections in 2020 — resulting in one of the highest turnouts for primaries in Alaska’s history. Ranked-choice voting is a secure and effective method to allow voter preferences to be counted. See the Alaska Center Education Fund’s blog on what Alaskans were to expect in August’s election in English HERE and in Spanish HERE.

Wisconsin — Local Initiative to Expand Early Voting Hours Passed!

In Wisconsin, the City of Green Bay expanded early voting hours after years of advocacy from local residents and students. The organizing effort led by advocates, including Wisconsin Conservation Voters (WCV) members, helped to pass a critical initiative that will help voters with disabilities, voters who work, and voters of all ages have greater access to the ballot box. Read more from Wisconsin Conservation Voters advocates after the initiative was passed HERE.

Maine – Implementing Policy for Automatic Voter Registration!

Maine has already passed significant pro-democracy legislation designed to make elections more secure and accessible. This year, Maine began the critical work of ensuring effective implementation of these new laws and timely adoption of technology solutions to more equitably and efficiently register voters. Serving as a lead partner in the Mainers for Modern Elections Coalition, Maine Conservation Voters worked with Secretary of State Shenna Bellows to ensure that Maine’s new automatic voter registration system truly meets the goal of closing the registration gap between voters of color and white voters, and does not decline potential voters without good reason.

PUSHING BACK AGAINST ATTACKS ON VOTING RIGHTS:

Michigan – Stopping Anti-Voter Bills!

For the second straight year, the Michigan League of Conservation Voters and their state partners were able to prevent a 39-bill anti-voter package from the Republican majority in the legislature from becoming law. To date, Governor Whitmer, a democracy champion, has needed to use her veto authority on more than a dozen bills that aimed to purge the voting rolls while other aspects of the package stalled in committee.

Wisconsin  – Stopping Anti Voter Bills!

Amid a sham election review that ended up costing Wisconsinites more than one million dollars, Wisconsin Conservation Voters also prevented the passage of numerous anti-voter bills in the state legislature strategy and the power of the veto by pro-democracy Governor Tony Evers. By the end of session, Governor Evers vetoed 16 anti-democracy bills including bills that, combined, would: take administrative authority away from the Wisconsin Elections Commission, eliminate resources for local elections officials, outlaw protected protest, make it harder for voters with disabilities to apply for absentee ballots, and make it easier for the state to disqualify absentee ballots. Read more on anti-voting bills Wisconsin Conservation Voters is fighting against and pro-democracy bills supported by WCV HERE.

Idaho — Stopping Anti-Voter Bills!

In Idaho, 12 anti-voting bills severely restricting and attacking equitable access to the ballot box were stopped in their tracks from even reaching the governor’s desk. These laws would have gutted Idaho’s elections process, banning ballot collection boxes, restricting student voters, and eliminating same-day voter registration. Read more on Conservation Voters for Idaho’s position and actions on some of these restrictive bills HERE.

New Mexico — Stopping Anti-Voter Amendments! 

In New Mexico, anti-democracy state legislators attempted to add an amendment to SB6 that would prohibit and criminalize the distribution of mail ballot applications by anyone other than the county clerk. This amendment would have greatly hindered pro-voter coalition work to get out the vote in communities throughout the state. In response, a united coalition of state and national partners, including Conservation Voters New Mexico (CVNM) and LCV, quickly mobilized to convince legislators to pull the language from the bill. 

FIGHTING GERRYMANDERING ACROSS THE COUNTRY:

Our state partners across the country fought, and in some states are still fighting, racist and partisan redistricting efforts that purposefully silence voters, overwhelmingly in communities most impacted by environmental injustices, pollution, and the devastation of the climate crisis. Voters should choose their elected officials, not the other way around. Elections matter, which is why our state partners in Montana, North Carolina, and Ohio are still fighting against redistricting and blatant partisan attempts to manipulate election maps.

BALLOT INITIATIVES TO WATCH THIS NOVEMBER: 

A number of Conservation Voter Movement partners are leading efforts on ballot initiatives that will be put to a vote in November. Statewide initiatives that state partners are prioritizing include: 

Michigan — Fighting for Major Voting Reform

With major electoral reform on the ballot in November, Michigan LCV is working with partners as a part of Promote the Vote 2022 to fight for the Right to Voting Policies Amendment, Proposal 2. The constitutional amendment would significantly reform voting policies to be more equitable for Michigan voters with the inclusion of:

  • Nine days for early in-person voting; 
  • Implementation of state-funded absentee-ballot drop boxes, and postage for absentee applications and ballots; 
  • Recognizing the fundamental right to vote safely without harassing conduct; 
  • Military or overseas ballots to be counted if postmarked by Election Day; 
  • Voters’ right to verify identity with a signed statement, instead of requiring photo ID; 
  • Voters’ right to a single application to vote absentee in all elections; 
  • Post-election audits to be conducted by election officials only; 
  • Required disclosure of donations to fund elections; 
  • Election result certification by election boards to be based only on the official records of votes cast.

Arizona — Fighting Against Racist and Ageist Voter ID Laws and for Transparency in Campaign Finances on the Ballot

In Arizona, Chispa Arizona is vehemently fighting for and against five ballot initiatives that cover various areas of our election systems. Chipsa Arizona is: 

  • PRO – Proposition 211, the Voters’ Right to Know Act, which would require transparency from candidates and require the disclosure of campaign finance sources on the ballot. 
  • ANTI – Proposition 309, the Voter Identification Requirements for Mail-In Ballots and In-Person Voting ballot measure, which would implement further barriers to equitable voting for communities of color, especially Latino and Indigenous communities in Arizona, in addition to younger or elderly voters who may not have photo identification.
  • ANTI – Proposition 128, which would allow the legislature to supersede a citizen-led initiative if the initiative is found to have “illegal or unconstitutional language.”
  • ANTI – Proposition 129, which would limit an initiative to only cover a single subject matter that would need to be stated in the title.
  • ANTI – Proposition 132, which would require any initiative involving a tax on the people to pass with 60% of the vote.

Connecticut — Fighting for Permanent Early Voting and No-Excuse Absentee Ballot Voting

Last year, Connecticut House Democrats and Republicans endorsed a bipartisan constitutional amendment on the ballot this fall to permanently expand in-person early voting in Connecticut. As lead partners in the Safe Vote CT Coalition, CTLCV is building voter support for Connecticut’s vote on a constitutional amendment to authorize early voting in the state. The Democratic-controlled legislature also passed legislation to allow a ballot referendum for No-Excuse Absentee Ballot voting. This will need to pass again in 2023 to place the referendum on the ballot in 2024.

Oregon — Fighting for Electeds to Show Up for Their Job

OLCV serves on the steering committee of advocates fighting to hold electeds accountable through a ballot measure to discourage state legislators from “walk-outs,” or unexcused absences during votes by disqualifying members from continuing to be seated after ten unexcused absences. 

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