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The DI Report: Voting Rights Resources

Monday, April 25, 2016

Core to the Democracy Initiative’s mission is to defend and expand voting access nationally and in states. This special edition of the DI Report is meant to be an overview and resource on voting rights to which you can refer and use in your work. At our December convening, groups indicated that they wanted DI to act as a “Democracy Docent,” providing guidance for groups for which democracy has not been a primary focus. This newsletter is meant to fulfill that purpose and we expect to produce a similar newsletter on money in politics as well as update this newsletter in the future.

This year marks the 50th Anniversary of Bloody Sunday and the signing of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, as well as the 2nd Anniversary of Shelby Co. v. Holder, the Supreme Court decision that gutted the landmark legislation. We aspire to a democracy that is of, by and for the people and a crucial piece of that puzzle is ensuring that the voices of Americans are heard at the polls. We expect you can use this newsletter as a starting point for resources to engage your members, supporters, and constituents in a critical and landmark year in the fight for voting rights.

Please note: Although this newsletter is expansive, it is by no means exhaustive and we may have left out important tools and resources. If you feel we missed something, please contact me at strambley@democracyinitiative.org and I can incorporate your suggestions into future editions.

1. Expert Voting Rights Organizations

2. Information & Resources

3. Key Reporters & Social Media

4. Opportunities for Reform  

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1. Expert Voting Rights Organizations

Within the Democracy Initiative, expert voting rights organizations are a core component of our network and coalition. Their research, advocacy, and organizing capabilities help provide the Democracy Initiative and our allies with the resources necessary to expand and defend voting access nationally and in states. Additionally, organizations allied with our work are invaluable to our reform efforts.

Democracy Initiative Organizations

 

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Allied Organizations 

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2. Information & Resources

This section highlights key reports and resources from the Democracy Initiative network and voting rights community.

Select Research Reports:

  • The Presidential Commission on Election AdministrationAlso known as the Bauer-Ginsburg Report and established by Executive Order in 2013, it sought to identify best practices in election administration and to make recommendations to improve the voting experience.
     
  • Evaluating & Implementing the Presidential Commission on Election Administration in Ten Swing StatesCommon Cause's Stephen Spaulding and Allegra Chapman parsed the PCEA, seeking to lift up its recommendations and evaluate its implementation.
     
  • Election Reforms and Voter Turnout Among Low Propensity VotersA voting rights report by Tova Andrea Wang on various election reforms and their effects on voter turnout.
     
  • Millions to the PollsDemos report outlining sixteen policies and practices that would make registration more accessible and seamless, lead to more effective and efficient election administration, and strengthen protections for voters’ rights.
     
  • National Commission on Voting Rights: In response to the Supreme Court gutting key Voting Rights Act protections, the National Commission on Voting Rights, organized by the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, conducted nationwide hearings to collect testimony about recent voting discrimination and election administration challenges and opportunities across all fifty states.
     
  • State of Voting 2014This Brennan Center report details the new voting restrictions put in place over the past few years, the laws that were in place for the first time in 2014, and the major lawsuits that could affect this year’s elections.
     
  • National Conference of State Legislatures Elections Legislation DatabaseThis comprehensive database tool lets you search state legislation related to the administration of elections introduced in 2011 through 2015. 

Newsletters & Clips:

  • Fair Elections Legal NetworkTwice-daily state and national voting rights clips.
     
  • Brennan CenterFrequent newsletters to keep you up to date on voting rights around the country.
     
  • Project Vote: Monthly newsletter summarizing key legislation, voting rights news, and other vital updates on issues from around the country.
     
  • The Voting News: Produced by Verified Voting, this collection of voting rights news from around the country is a valuable resource to track recent and ongoing efforts in states.
     
  • Election LineNonpartisan, non-advocacy clearinghouse for election reform news and information.
     
  • The CanvassFrom the National Conference of State Legislatures, this is a newsletter designed to synthesize data, legislative practices, and insight into an executive summary for legislators and key staff.

Blogs, Listservs & Other Resources:

  • StrikeforceStrikeforce is a weekly conference call with local, state and national organizations across the country to discuss restrictive and enfranchising voting laws, share best practices, resources, talking points, legislative strategies and ways for groups to engage in the work. Additionally, Strikeforce is a listserv for participants to share information and resources. You can join Strikeforce by emailing Chris Melody Fields at cfields@lawyerscommittee.org.
     
  • Election Protection Coalition: The nonpartisan Election Protection coalition was formed to ensure that all voters have an equal opportunity to participate in the political process. During elections, volunteers enter data and information into Our Vote Live, an interactive environment painting the most comprehensive picture of election irregularities from the perspective of the voter available anywhere.
     
  • Rick Hasen Election Law Blog: Rick Hasen, a law and politics professor at UC Irvine, authors this blog covering the law of politics and politics of law, specifically covering election law, campaign finance, legislation, voting rights, redistricting, and the Supremem Court nomination process.
     
  • Ohio State University: Moritz School of Law Election Law CenterElection Law at Moritz is a nonpartisan research, education, and outreach program conducted by faculty and staff of The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law. As a center of election law expertise, Election Law at Moritz is a resource for lawyers, academics and educators, journalists, policymakers and other civic leaders, election administrators and citizens interested in election law issues.
     
  • Institute for Southern StudiesFounded by veterans of the civil rights movement, the Institute for Southern Studies has established a national reputation as an essential resource for grassroots activists, community leaders, scholars, policy makers and others working to bring lasting social and economic change to the region.
     
  • National Association of Secretaries of StateNASS serves as a medium for the exchange of information between states and fosters cooperation in the development of public policy.  The association has key initiatives in the areas of elections and voting and state business services, as well as several well-established awards programs.

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2. Key Reporters & Social Media

 

Key Reporters 

The following reporters and journalists are frequent writers about all things voting rights. This list will be helpful in pitching a story or even just figuring out who to follow. Available contact information and Twitter handles are included.

Ari Berman

Contributing Writer, 

The Nation 

ari@thenation.com

@ariberman

Ryan Reilly

Justice Reporter, 

The Huffington Post

ryan.reilly@huffingtonpost.com     

212.652.6400

@ryanjreilly

Brentin Mock

Justice Editor, 

The Grist

bmock@icloud.com

@brentinmock

Martha Moore

National News Reporter, 

USA Today

mmoore@usatoday.com

212.715.5477

@USATMoore

Jamelle Bouie

Writer, Washington Bureau,

Slate

jamelle.bouie@slate.com

202.261.1310

@jbouie

Eugene Robinson

Associate Editor & Columnist, 

The Washington Post

eugene.robinson@washpost.com

202.334.5306

@Eugene_Robinson

Zachary Roth

MSNBC

zachary.roth@nbcuni.com

212.664.4444

@zackroth

Greg Sargent

The Plum Line, 

The Washington Post

greg.sargent@washpost.com

202.334.6000

@ThePlumLineGS

Social Media

Here are a handful of hashtags to follow on social media, keeping you up to date on trending voting rights topics.

#VRA4Today

#VotingRights

#ElectionProtection

#NewMotorVoter

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4. Policy & Opportunities for Reform

 

Key Federal Voting Rights Legislation

  • Voting Rights Amendment Act: A bipartisan bill introduced on January 16, 2014 in the last Congress, the Voting Rights Amendment Act of 2014 (H.R.3899/S.1945), includes many elements of an effective approach. A new version is expected to be introduced in the coming months. For specifics, please see the Advancement Project and Leadership Conference's summaries and stay tuned for more information on the forthcoming bill.
     
  • Voter Empowerment Act: Originially introduced by Rep. John Lewis in 2013 and reintroduced in the 114th Congress this bill aims to increase accessibility, accountability, and integrity in the electoral process. Key components include modernizing voter registration efforts with reforms like online, same-day, and automatic voter registration. Additionally, it seeks to to remove practices that interfere with a person’s right to cast a ballot. The Brennan Center has a good summary here, and check out this fact sheet and section-by-section summary.
     
  • Democracy Restoration Act: This bill, introduced by Rep. John Conyers and Sen. Ben Cardin, seeks to restore voting rights in federal elections to the 4.4 million disenfranchised Americans who have been released from prison and are living in the community, but are still denied the right to vote despite having paid their debt to society. Be sure to check out the Brennan Center summary and fact sheet for more information.
     
  • Right to Vote Constitutional Amendment: Introduced by Reps. Keith Ellison and Mark Pocan, this proposed amendment would establish an explicit right to vote in the Constitution. Take a look atFairVote's bill summary for more information.

Opportunities for Reform

These categories for reform encompass the scope of the work on voting rights nationally and in states. There are already many efforts in states to bring these reforms to fruition. Please reach out or stay tuned for more information on ways your organization can involved!

Additionally, take a look at Project Vote's new Spring 2015 Legislative Threats and Opportunities for a detailed look at the voting rights landscape. 

  • Re-Enfranchisement of Previously Incarcerated Citizens: According to the Sentencing Project, nationally, an estimated 5.85 million Americans are denied the right to vote because of laws that prohibit voting by people with felony convictions. Felony disenfranchisement is an obstacle to participation in democratic life which is exacerbated by racial disparities in the criminal justice system, resulting in 1 of every 13 African Americans unable to vote. Project Vote has a great background primer on the issue andAdvancement Project has been heavily involved in this effort in Virginia. Current legislative examples are ongoing in Maryland and Minnesota.
     
  • Voter ID Expansion and Repeal: Every voter should demonstrate that they are who they say they are before voting. That form of proof should not include restrictive documentation requirements like overly burdensome photo ID or redundant proof of citizenship requirements that serve to block millions of eligible American citizens from voting. Check out the Brennan Center's voter ID page for more information.
     
  • Vote by Mail/No Excuse Absentee: Convenience voting, defined as access to voting at a time and place of the voter’s choosing, has grown exponentially in the United States within the last two decades. A majority of states now permit “no-fault” or “no excuse” absentee voting, early in person voting, and vote-by-mail (VBM), and it is estimated that approximately one-third of all voters in the 2008 general election took advantage of some form of early voting. Learn more from Project Vote.
     
  • Early Voting: Early voting provides a means for eligible voters to cast their ballots at a time and location other than in person on Election Day. Visit this explainer from Demos to learn more about the different types of early voting.
     
  • Automatic/Universal Registration (New Motor Voter): Automatic registration shifts the burden of voter registration from the individual to the state. States could automatically register eligible voters to vote at any opportunity where government agencies are in a position to verify a person’s residence and eligibility. Individuals could decline to register and protections would be built in to ensure only eligible citizens are registered. Data from the USPS, DMV, Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and other agencies could be used to generate voter lists, and automatically update voter registrations of existing voters whenever they move. This was recently enacted in Oregon and introduced in California. Check out Demos' explainer in their report, Millions to the Polls, for more information. 
     
  • Pre-Registration: States with pre-registration laws enable young people to register as future voters, even if they won’t turn 18 before Election Day.  Voters are then automatically registered once they turn 18. Allowing future voters to pre-register before they turn 18 — for example, when they first get a driver’s license — is an important policy to ensure that every voter is registered and able to vote as soon as she is eligible. Click here for more information from the Brennan Center.
     
  • Online Registration: Like many other ways that people use the Internet, voters with access to an online voter registration system can check and update their registration status, as well as check their voting location. Using a computer to update existing voter registrations—to change an address, for example—is particularly easy and efficient. Demos explored this in their report, Millions to the Polls.
     
  • Same/Election Day Registration: Same Day Registration (SDR) allows eligible voters to register to vote and cast their ballots on the same day. Depending on the state, this one-stop process for registering and voting may be offered on Election Day, during the early voting period, or both. Click here to read more about this from Demos.

Thank you for tuning in to this edition of the DI Report. Other publications and materials will follow in the weeks and months ahead. Please stay tuned!

Feel free pass this on to anyone who may be interested in our work. If you are not already a subscriber, click here to receive the DI Report in your inbox.

And please be sure to follow us on Twitter (@Unite4Democracy) and like us on Facebook!

The DI Report: The DI's 3rd Annual Convening, 5th Anniversary of Citizens United, And Looking Ahead

Monday, February 23, 2015

Welcome to the first DI Report of the new year, it has been a busy and productive time! Since our last edition, the Democracy Initiative brought together 220 leaders of DI organizations and other groups in our largest and most dynamic annual Convening to date last December. Building off of the priorities set at the Convening, we have launched a comprehensive and coordinated planning process to set priorities and plans for 2015 and 2016 and helped organize a national day of action around the 5th anniversary of Citizens United. Keep reading to learn more.

Democracy-Initiative-0.jpgLooking Ahead

Coming out of December’s Convening, we promised to let you know what we are planning for the coming year.  Building on the consensus that emerged from leaders and key activists about where the Democracy Initiative should focus its efforts in the year ahead, we are planning our work around three strategic categories: 

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Left: Sarita Gupta (Jobs With Justice) outlines her commitment to the DI.
Right: Stacey Long Simmons (National LGBTQ Task Force) votes on potential 2015 issue priorities.

  • National days of action: Key dates throughout the year, such as last month’s anniversary of Citizens United and this year’s upcoming 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act, are opportunities to organize Democracy Initiative partners, allies, and activists around voting rights and money in politics. The strength and purpose of the DI lies in the millions of activists in our member organizations that are seeking to build a stronger, healthier democracy. Harnessing that power is the key and specific days of action give us the structure and framework to build around.
  • Place-based organizing: Whether money in politics or voting rights, there are myriad opportunities to lead and support on-the-ground efforts to empower voters and make their voices heard. We are already looking at specific opportunities to support automatic registration in Oregon, fair elections in Maryland, and renewed efforts in Delaware for election-day voter registration. These are just a sample, but there is clearly an appetite for reform across the country and we need to begin to seed the sense that change can happen in victories across the country.  And we need to find places where each change can build on the last, whether it is a change to how campaigns are financed, or how people vote.   
  • Guiding membership organizations to engage in democracy reform: We know one of the key challenges for DI member organizations – and for the democracy movement broadly – is to how to connect with and mobilize millions of our members and activists in the fight to give true meaning to the promise of our democracy. The DI’s messaging project is focused precisely on meeting that challenge. We will be developing specific communications tools and materials for DI partners and to both sound the alarm on the attacks on our democracy and champion meaningful solutions to the threats imperiling our democracy. 

The Convening made clear that these three outcomes are essential for the Democracy Initiative’s continued growth and success. We will share more detailed plans shortly for our work together in 2015 and 2016. We enthusiastically welcome your feedback and ideas. Please contact Marissa Brown (mbrown@democracyinitiative.org) with any thoughts or suggestions.

5th Anniversary of Citizens United

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January 21st, 2015 marked the 5th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s disastrous Citizens United decision, unleashing a massive onslaught of corporate and mega-wealthy donor money on our political system. As our first national day of action of the year, Democracy Initiative partners and allies coordinated multiple activities and events to fire up activists and educate the public at large about the devastating consequences of this decision.  

There were more than 60 events in 50 cities and towns across the country, with thousands demonstrating nationwide on a cold winter day. The flagship event in front of the Chamber of Commerce in Washington, DC gathered a large crowd of activists and supporters. Present at the event were Common Cause, Sierra Club, NAACP, Greenpeace USA, CWA, Public Campaign, Every Voice, ATU, APWU, Public Citizen, People for the American Way, US PIRG, Jobs With Justice, Free Speech for People, and Alliance for Justice.

Other efforts included:

After months of planning, all of this work demonstrated the power of our coalition and activists, collectively fighting back as billionaires and corporations continue to buy our government at the expense of hardworking Americans. 

DI Strategic Convening: Blueprint for Action to Restore Our Democracy
On December 11th and 12th, the Democracy Initiative hosted its third annual convening, bringing together more than 200 leaders and activists from many diverse organizations and advocacy backgrounds for a discussion and opportunity to collaborate on some of the most important issues facing our democracy today.  It was the biggest convening by far, and the room remained packed when the conference concluded on its second day.

Launching the two-day conference was a collaborative meeting with the leaders of DI organizations. With a warm welcome by CWA President Larry Cohen and Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune, Democracy Initiative Executive Director Marissa Brown and Common Cause President Miles Rapoport led a discussion on what has been accomplished to date and the potential strategic directions for Democracy Initiative and choices about potential campaigns and priorities. As noted, this was the largest gathering of organizational leaders since DI’s founding and provided a great opportunity for face-to-face discussion to set priorities and how organizations can use their strengths and infrastructure to advance a democracy agenda in the coming year and beyond.

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Left: Larry Cohen (CWA) 
Right: Michael Brune (Sierra Club)

As this meeting of “principals” concluded, the second and longer part of the conference was kicked off with a dynamic joint speech by Greenpeace USA’s new Executive Director, Annie Leonard, and the NAACP’s new President & CEO, Cornell William Brooks (below left). Together, they synthesized the guidance from the morning leaders meeting and set the stage on what to expect at the Convening.

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Wendy Weiser (above right), Brennan Center’s Democracy Program Director, then took the stage for a presentation on the lay of the land for advancing a democracy agenda. Addressing the advance of restrictive voting laws passed since 2010, she then outlined a defensive and affirmative agenda for both protecting and expanding voting rights.

The first breakout session commenced with opportunities for conference participants to participate in any of four groups:

  • The Road to a Constitutional Amendment – A discussion on how the amendment campaign can take further steps forward in the next two years and how it can positively impact other organizing efforts.
  • Advancing Voting Rights – A discussion on expanding voting rights, modernizing state voting systems, and restoring felon voting rights.
  • Big Money Tips the Scales of Justice – How judicial elections undermining the independence of our state courts.
  • Many Voices, One Chorus – This was a presentation by Lake Research’s Senior Partner, David Mermin, on the Democracy Initiative’s ongoing large-scale polling and research project. Aimed at developing umbrella message materials for DI organizations on democracy, David provided an update on what we have learned so far through the first focus groups and what organizations can expect in the months ahead.

 

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Left: Slide from the Lake Research Partners presentation on DI message project 
Right: Jodeen Olguin-Tayler of Demos.

The conference reconvened for a presentation and panel discussion on the new Stacked Deck Report led by Demos Counsel Adam Lioz, and Director of Advocacy Jodeen Olguin-Tayler. Their passionate presentations on how a political agenda driven by the donor class exacerbates economic and racial inequities and undermine the fundamental principles of our democracy were truly moving and underscored the importance of democratic reform.

The next day continued with additional breakout sessions and working groups:

  • Think Nationally, Act Locally – Focused on working locality by locality to build for public financing systems that empower small donors.
  • Fighting back in the States – Highlighted recent campaigns and explore state-level opportunities for efforts to protect and even increase access to the polls.
  • Mobilizing Millions – Strategized about how to seize opportunities for collective engagement in 2015 in the money in politics and voting rights fields nationally and in states.  
  • Redistricting – Focus on reforms that will create districts drawn to reflect community interests.
  • Lifting the Corporate Veil – How we will win fights to force disclosure of corporate political and lobbying spending.
  • Moving Forward on Voting Rights Step by Step – Building campaigns in states to move same-day registration.

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Breakout sessions during both days of the conference.

The conference concluded with a packed house as Greg Moore, the Democracy Initiative’s Senior Strategist, and Courtney Hight, the Sierra Club’s Democracy Program Director, led a collaborative discussion and debrief session on the Democracy Initiative’s next steps. Leaders and participants alike described the inspiration they drew from the conference, noting the impressive breadth of our coalition and the clarity that was present in developing a broad program to enact the changes that will make our government of, by, and for the people.


Thank you for tuning in to this edition of the DI Report. Other publications and materials will follow in the weeks and months ahead. Please stay tuned!

Feel free pass this on to anyone who may be interested in our work. If you are not already a subscriber, click hereto receive the DI Report in your inbox.

And please be sure to follow us on Twitter (@Unite4Democracy) and like us on Facebook!

The DI Report: Election Protection, Democracy For All Amendment, Fair Elections

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

This year and through the election, Democracy Initiative partners and allies came together and intensified efforts to protect our democracy, demonstrating the strength of our unified mission and goals. Many organizations, whose primary mission is elsewhere, were engaged in key efforts across the country. Volunteers stepped up to monitor the polls, we saw the culmination of years of effort with a vote on a Constitutional Amendment on the Senate floor with majority support, and new efforts in counties and states to enact fair elections were passed. 

Keep reading to learn about our recent work.

Citizen Poll Monitors in the Wake of Shelby County v. Holder

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This fall, the Democracy Initiative and our allies supported on-the-ground, non-partisan citizen poll monitoring. For 50 years, the Voting Rights Act has stood as a bulwark against efforts to limit voting, but in the aftermath ofShelby County v. Holder, the absence of key sections of the 1965 Voting Rights Act have left many communities vulnerable to discriminatory voting rules and legislation. We saw it as critical that we engage in efforts to record and report what actually happened in this election.

On October 15th, the Democracy Initiative and our partners hosted a Tele Town Hall with thousands of activists to recruit non-partisan poll monitors in California, New Mexico, Colorado, Ohio, Georgia, Illinois, Massachusetts, Michigan, North Carolina, Texas, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. Speakers described the situation, explained what poll monitors would do and asked for volunteers.   The call’s 13,000 participants learned about the issues and volunteered to participate adding 150 additional poll monitors to aid local efforts. Partnering with Common Cause, NAACP, and the State Voices network that coordinated the on-the-ground operations in conjunction with the Election Protection coalition coordinated by the Lawyer’s Committee on Civil Rights Under Law, we recruited these volunteers from among members and activists from Public Citizen, Sierra Club, CWA, National LGBTQ Task Force, and NAACP. The volunteers were recruited from communities that were likely to face problems at the polls and observed the polling locations for instances of intimidation, disenfranchisement, and other abnormalities.

The Election Protection hotline received more than 18,000 calls on Election Day from poll monitors and other concerned voters requesting direct assistance, a 40% increase from 2010. With more than 2,000 legal and grassroots volunteers, the hotline provided a nonpartisan resource for voters with questions and problems, the majority of which came from Texas, Georgia, and Florida. In 2015 we will continue to work with our partners to expand the network of volunteers supporting voting rights across the country.

Democracy for All Constitutional Amendment

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In the wake of the Supreme Court’s erosion of long-standing laws to regulate money in politics, the Democracy Initiative worked with a broad coalition comprised of internal partners and other allies to build nationwide support for a proposed constitutional amendment, giving Congress the renewed authority to regulate the ever increasing amount of money flooding our political process.  

Democracy Initiative partners, led by Public Citizen, People for the American Way, Common Cause, Free Speech for People and others have galvanized grassroots support across the country by organizing around recent Senate hearings with rallies, in-district meetings with Members of Congress, and an editorial and letter writing campaign nationwide featuring pieces authored by leading progressives. The Democracy Initiative worked with the coalition to amplify high profile and unusual voices in support of reform.  Ultimately,  op-eds were featured in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Roanoke Times, Springfield News-Leader, Los Angeles Daily News, Portland Press-Herald, and Roll Call among many others.

In addition to the op-ed campaign, rallies, events, and other activities were held nationwide demonstrating a strong commitment to the movement from activists. Here is a synopsis:

• 3.2 million+ petition signatures delivered
More than two dozen DI partners and other allies reached out their member lists, urging them to sign the petition. Led by People for the American Way, many groups including the Sierra Club, NAACP, CWA, and LCV contributed heavily in this effort to engage and mobilize our membership base. 

• 15,000+ phone calls to Senators
Thanks in large part to CWA toll-free number, the coalition generated more than 15,000 calls to Senators’ offices in the week leading up to the vote—an average of 300 calls per Senate office.  

• In-district events
To tap into the energy leading up to this pivotal vote, in-district events were held at Senators’ offices, organized in large part by Public Citizen. Partners encouraged participation through their member lists and the events had solid attendance across the board, from a small spirited event in Alaska at Senator Murkowski’s office, to a large rally in Chicago at Senator Kirk’s office, and a marching band that showed up to help provide support for the event in Portsmouth, NH at Senator Ayotte’s office. Media turned out for these events and the five remaining Democrats who had not cosponsored the Democracy for All amendment all made commitments to vote for it in large part as a result of these events – four of them putting out public statements directly mentioning the events and the impact on their decision.

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Montgomery County Fair Elections
On September 30th, the Montgomery County Council passed Bill 16-14, a landmark fair elections law empowering small donors. Specifically, the law allows candidates to raise low-dollar donations from individuals in their district to qualify for matching funds. Once a candidate meets the threshold to qualify, donations of $150 or less are matched with public funds, with smaller donations receiving a higher match. In exchange, candidates agree to turn down large donations from special interests. 

Montgomery County is Maryland’s most populous county, home to more than 1 million residents. The bill’s passage is a major victory for fair elections advocates and is the first passed by a local government in Maryland since the state legislature permitted changes to campaign finance law in 2012.

Common Cause Maryland and MD PIRG were heavily involved on the ground with support from national organizations such as Every Voice. The Democracy Initiative released statements of 11 DI partners, ensuring diverse voices from non-traditional allies in labor, environment, and civil rights organizations were raised in support of this momentous achievement.

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Jeff Clements Book Signing and Reception
On Constitution Day, September 17, the Democracy Initiative along with American Constitution Society, Common Cause, Communications Workers of America, Demos, Free Speech for People, People For the American Way, Public Citizen, and Sierra Club hosted a reception and book-signing featuring Jeff Clements, author of Corporations Are Not People. At the event, both Larry Cohen and Jeff Clements addressed the attendees, thanking and encouraging their continued enthusiasm and dedication to fight corporate personhood. Jeff took questions from crowd, many of whom were activists and eager to share their passion for an equal voice in politics.

 

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Fix the Senate Now
The Fix the Senate Now coalition, a project of the Democracy Initiative, has continued its work on Senate rules reform, advocating for sensible changes to the rules governing the U.S. Senate to end gridlock and allow the institution to meet some of our country’s greatest challenges.  The changes made to Senate rules at the end of last year have enabled the Senate to finally confirm several judicial nominees, but many executive branch nominees remain caught in the gridlock that marks this Senate as one of the least productive in history. After the election we have redoubled our efforts to ensure that the Senate is doing its job and confirming the remaining nominees.  

New Convening Member and Leadership 
The Democracy Initiative would like to welcome Common Cause, joining the Sierra Club, CWA, NAACP, and Greenpeace as the DI’s newest convening member of the coalition! We look forward to working more closely as we fight to restore our democracy and political equality in states and across the country. 

In addition to Common Cause becoming a new convening member, NAACP and Greenpeace have announced new leadership at their organizations. The NAACP National Board of Directors announced its selection of attorney Cornell William Brooks to be the Association’s next National President & CEO and will become the 18th person to oversee operations at the nation’s oldest and largest civil rights organization in its 105-year history. Greenpeace announced their new Executive Director, Annie Leonard, who began her career at Greenpeace International in 1988 and is returning now to help the organization inspire and mobilize millions of people to take action to create a more sustainable future together. 

New Democracy Initiative Members!
The Democracy Initiative continues to expand, as more organizations recognize the growing democracy movement and its essential role in achieving our collective goals. We have now reached 50 organizations and count the following among our new members:   

 

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Thank you again for supporting the Democracy Initiative and reading our newsletter. Feel free pass this on to anyone who may be interested in our work. If you are not already a subscriber, click here to receive the DI Reportin your inbox.

And please be sure to follow us on Twitter (@Unite4Democracy) and like us on Facebook!

The DI Report: Shelby County, Constitutional Amendment, CWA Legislative Conference, & Delaware

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

This summer, the Democracy Initiative continued to fight for our democracy and engage activists around the country to stand up for our future. The stakes have never been higher as powerful interests are spending unprecedented amounts in campaign contributions and the health of our voting rights remains tenuous in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision that eviscerated the Voting Rights Act and new laws implemented since the last election that circumscribe the ability of many to vote.  

Anniversary of Shelby County v. Holder and the Voting Rights Amendment Act 

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June 25th marked the one year anniversary of Shelby Co. v. Holder, in which the Roberts Court struck down a key provision of the Voting Rights Act (VRA) that protected voters in places with a history and record of voting discrimination, ruling that Congress must update the law to protect citizens' right to vote. 

Introduced earlier this year, the Voting Rights Amendment Act (H.R. 3899 and S. 1495) seeks to update the VRA, but so far has received limited support from members of Congress.  Seeking to build support, Democracy Initiative allies participated in a rally on the Capitol grounds following the Senate hearing on the Voting Rights Amendment Act (VRAA). This was the first and only hearing the voting rights legislation has received so far.

Democracy Initiative organizations including CWA, NAACP, AFT, Sierra Club, Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, NAACP LDF, National Coalition on Black Civic Participation, Alliance for Justice and US Student Association participated in the rally and heard from members including House Minority Leaders Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) about the need for national action to protect voting rights.

Throughout June and July, the Democracy Initiative also mobilized citizens to contact their elected leaders to urge passage of the VRAA.  With the help of the NAACP, NAACP National Voter Fund, and the Communications Workers of America, the Democracy Initiative was able to organize nearly 1,200 local activists and concerned voters to call the offices of Senators Thad Cochran (R-MI) and Dean Heller (R-NV), in addition to Representatives Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), Howard Coble (R-NC), and Doug Collins (R-GA), urging them to pass the VRAA.

The Democracy Initiative organized a Thunderclap on the anniversary of the Shelby County decision with the message: “Now is the time for Congress to fix the VRA and protect our right to vote!” That message was sent by more than 100 supporters and reached 638,754 individuals across the country.  

Constitutional Amendment to Overturn Citizens United 

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In the wake of the Supreme Court’s erosion of long-standing laws to regulate money in politics, the Democracy Initiative is working to build nationwide support for a proposed constitutional amendment to give Congress the renewed authority to regulate the ever increasing amount of money flooding our political process.

Democracy Initiative partners, led by Public Citizen, People for the American Way, Common Cause, Free Speech for People and others have galvanized grassroots support across the country by organizing around recent Senate hearings with rallies, in-district meetings with Members of Congress, and an editorial and letter writing campaign nationwide featuring pieces authored by leading progressives. The Democracy Initiative is also working with the coalition to amplify unusual voices in support of reform.  Recent op-eds have been featured in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Roanoke Times, Springfield News-LeaderWisconsin Journal-SentinelLos Angeles Daily News, Portland Press-Herald, and Roll Call among many others.

This campaign unites Americans around that central idea that this is a democracy of, by and for the people, and that all our voices should be heard.

Democracy Initiative Panel at the CWA Legislative Conference 

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This May, CWA hosted their 2014 Legislative-Political and Movement Building Conference in Washington, DC to strategize about how we move forward together on the issues we care about and were joined by CWA activists, leaders, and partners from 42 organizations.

More than 100 participants from partner groups and more than 500 CWA members attended the conference, spoke on the issues, and helped present at 17 workshops, including a panel hosted by the Democracy Initiative, “Redistricting and the National Popular Vote.” The Democracy Initiative’s Executive Director Marissa Brown moderated the panel featuring Dan Vicuña, Common Cause National Redistricting Coordinator, Scott Drexel, National Popular Vote Consultant, and Adam Lioz, Demos Counsel.
 
The panel discussed redistricting, the implications of the electoral college system, and the current system of registration and voting in addition to proposed solutions to make the U.S. more democratic, such as redistricting reform, the national popular vote initiative, and voting modernization.  

Delaware Same Day Voting Registration Campaign 

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The Democracy Initiative joined the Center for Popular Democracy to push for same day voting registration in Delaware, an effort to allow Delawareans the right to register to vote on the same day as a primary or general election. This voting rights effort nearly succeeded, falling short by just a few votes before the state House and Senate adjourned for the year.

Bringing together its allies and partners, the Democracy Initiative organized lobby visits to Delaware elected officials, brought supporters to rallies and events, and sent a letter signed by 22 organizations urging Delaware officials to expand voting rights to its residents. Additionally, the Democracy Initiative urged partner organizations to have their local members personally call their state representatives to support same day registration, resulting in hundreds of calls and strong show of support. Although this bill did not ultimately pass, the campaign will resume in full force next year when Delaware’s House and Senate return for the 2015 legislative session

National Commission on Voting Rights 

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The National Commission on Voting Rights (NCVR), organized by the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, wrapped up its series of 25 state and regional hearings.  The NCVR set out to learn about racial voting discrimination and election administration issues.  At the panel’s final hearing in Ohio this May, the Democracy Initiative’s Greg Moore highlighted the history of voter suppression efforts in Ohio and the right to referendum that is allowed under Ohio state law. The panel recently released a report documenting the the national record of voting discrimination since 1995.  The report findings include that “Voting discrimination is a frequent and ongoing problem in the United States.”  Click here to read the comprehensive report, Protecting Minority Voters: Our Work is Not Done.  The panel expects to release a report documenting issues with election administration in September.

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Senate Rules Reform 

The Fix the Senate Now Coalition, a project of the Democracy Initiative, has continued its work on Senate rules reform, advocating for sensible changes to the rules governing the U.S. Senate to end gridlock and allow the institution to meet some of our country’s greatest challenges.  The changes made to Senate rules at end of last year have enabled the Senate to finally confirm several judicial nominees, but several executive branch nominees remain caught in the gridlock that marks this Senate as one of the least productive in history.

Check out some of our work below:

ICYMI: Two Dozen Ambassador Nominees Blocked By GOP Temper Tantrum in U.S. Senate

Harry Reid is Right: The U.S. Senate Should Adopt “Use it or Lose it” Reforms

ICYMI: Top Energy & Environmental Nominees “Languish in Confirmation Limbo” Due to Senate Gridlock

New Reminders Why Senate Rules Reform Remains Essential

Use it or Lose It: A Sensible Change for the U.S. Senate to Reduce Time Wasting on Nominees


Thank you again for supporting the Democracy Initiative and reading our newsletter. Feel free pass this on to anyone who may be interested in our work. If you are not already a subscriber, click here to receive the DI Reportin your inbox.

And please be sure to follow us on Twitter (@Unite4Democracy) and like us on Facebook!

The DI Report: McCutcheon, NY Public Finance, and National Voter Registration Act

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Welcome to the second installment of the Democracy Initiative’s newsletter. We have continued our fast pace and remain actively engaged on the critical issues facing our country. This has been a tough month in the wake of McCutcheon, but we remain determined to save our democracy from big money and special interests.

Please continue reading for an update on our recent work.

Supreme Court Hands Down Disappointing Decision in McCutcheon v. FEC

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On April 2, the Roberts Court dealt a blow to our democracy by further undermining the campaign finance regime.In a 5-4 decision, the Court held that long-standing aggregate contribution limits were unconstitutional. These caps prevented donors from contributing more than $123,000 in total to federal candidates and national parties.

In a national show of solidarity, Americans organized more than 150 rallies in 41 states, demonstrating citizens’ engagement to fight for equal speech rights and not sell our democracy to the highest bidder. In Washington DC, the Democracy Initiative, People for the American Way, Sierra Club, NAACP, CWA, Public Citizen, Common Cause, Free Speech for People, and US PIRG held a rally that was joined by Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN), and Rep. Ted Deutch (D-FL) on the Supreme Court steps to voice outrage at the Court’s continued erosion of campaign finance restrictions. 

Since the Citizens United decision in 2010, the Roberts Court continues to strike down restrictions on money in politics, while simultaneously eroding voting rights for millions of people. Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne stated, “If Congress tries to contain the power of the rich, the Roberts Court will slap it in the face. And if Congress tries to guarantee the voting rights of minorities, the Roberts Court will slap it in the face again.”

The McCutcheon decision is precisely why the Democracy Initiative coalition must continue fighting to elevate people over money. 

Money out, voters in!

New York Fair Elections
Over the last few months, the Democracy Initiative actively engaged in the New York Fair Elections fight to establish a public financing system for state elections.

In 2010, Governor Cuomo promised to bring fair elections to New York, and the Democracy Initiative worked tirelessly alongside the New York Fair Elections coalition to amplify and increase pressure on Albany to include these critical campaign reforms in its state budget.

The Democracy Initiative sent a letter signed by 23 organizations urging Governor Cuomo to keep his promise and fight for publicly financed Fair Elections. This effort served as a galvanizing force among organizations and individuals to come together and fight the corrupting influence of money in our political system.  DI groups sent more than 250,000 emails in New York, prompting thousands of calls into the governor’s office calling for reform.  In addition, DI prompted high level contacts from among its member organizations to Governor Cuomo.  

It was a long, drawn-out fight in the statehouse and when the dust settled, Governor Cuomo caved on his promise.  This was disappointing, but certainly not the end of the road for advocates of fair elections. Many lessons were learned and Governor Cuomo is being held accountable.

Going forward, the Democracy Initiative will keep fighting for fair elections on the state and national level. This is not the end, but the beginning of a movement aimed at taking back our democracy.

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Affordable Care Act Compliance with the National Voter Registration Act
In March, 32 organizations called on President Obama to ensure that millions of Americans applying for benefits under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) are also provided their federally-guaranteed opportunity to register to vote.

The organizations expressed concern that the application process for benefits through federally-facilitated healthcare exchanges currently violates the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 (NVRA), and urged the administration to take immediate steps to ensure compliance with this important federal law. 

The letter stated, “As staunch supporters of voting rights, we believe that it is critical for the ACA to meet these legal requirements now and offer voter registration to the millions of Americans who will be shopping for insurance on the exchanges in the coming months and years.” 

The NVRA—widely known as the “motor voter” law—was enacted 20 years ago with strong bipartisan support from Congress. It made voter registration more accessible by requiring convenient voter registration opportunities to be provided in certain instances when Americans interact with their government. For the last 20 years, states have offered voter registration services in tandem with driver’s license transactions, Medicaid, and other government programs. It has provided an important and significant source for registration and more than 140 million Americans have applied to register to vote through provisions of the NVRA. 

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Fix the Senate Now Campaign
As the Senate continues its glacial pace in confirming nominees, the Fix the Senate Now coalition is committed to reforming the Senate rules to make the congressional body functional in the wake of last November’s changes to the nominations process.  These delay and obstruction tactics have significant consequences for national security and the delivery of justice.

The Democracy Initiative’s Fix the Senate Now coalition has been calling for the U.S. Senate to explore additional reforms. In particular, we highlighted the need for changes to “blue slips,” a courtesy practice not mentioned anywhere in the Senate’s rules that allows senators to block consideration of federal judicial nominees from their home states. It only becomes more frustrating as the Senate GOP shows selective memory as they continue to foster gridlock in the chamber

Democracy Initiative Around Town
This March, the United States Student Association (USSA) held its annual National Grassroots Legislative Conference in Washington DC. Thanks to the generosity of CWA and NAACP, students from Historically Black Colleges and Universities located in states previously covered by Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act joined more than 300 students from around the country to participate. The Democracy Initiative’s Greg Moore briefed the convening on the Voting Rights Amendment Act (HR3899) to equip the students to advocate for the VRAA in meetings on Capitol Hill along with other USSA legislative priorities.  

The Democracy Initiative partnered with USSA, the NAACP Youth and College Division, and the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights to brief participants on the Voting Rights Amendment Act (HR 3899) prior to the students lobbying Capitol Hill.  


Thank you again for supporting the Democracy Initiative and reading our newsletter. Feel free pass this on to anyone who may be interested in our work. And don’t forget to follow us on Twitter! (@Unite4Democracy)

The DI Report: Virtual Teach-In, Government By the People Act, and More

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Welcome to the first installment of the Democracy Initiative's monthly newsletter. We have had an exciting start to 2014 and look forward to advancing the critical issues facing our nation: money in politics, voting rights, and Senate rules reform. 

We would like to take this opportunity to update you on our recent work. 

2014 Democracy Initiative Convening 

On January 8, 2014, the Democracy Initiative held a follow up meeting to our first large gathering in December 2012. More than 120 people attended from more than 55 organizations including leaders from several organizations. 

The group discussed immediate campaign opportunities for action around changes in Senate rules, federal legislation to amend the Voting Rights Act, as well as threats and opportunities in states around voting rights and money in politics. Participants discussed the intersection of these various issues and how to integrate democracy work into the mission of their organizations. Participants committed to follow up with similar events in one or two states, work to provide more resources for small groups, and to engage across comfort areas in new issues. 

Voting Rights TeleTownhall 

On January 8th following the convening, Democracy Initiative hosted a TeleTownhall on voting rights with more than 23,000 participants. Ably hosted by NAACP Interim President and CEO Lorraine C. Miller, the call featured CWA President Larry Cohen, Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune, Greenpeace Executive Director Phil Radford, National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Executive Director Rea Carey, La Raza President and CEO Janet Murguia, America Sustainable Business Council CEO David Levine, and U.S. Student Association President Sophia Zaman. 

This was a great educational opportunity to engage our activists and involve them in the ongoing voting rights debate. 

Virtual Teach-In 

virtual teach-in engaged thousands of Americans on January 21 as Demos, MoveOn.org, and Democracy Initiative sponsored the effort to educate Americans on the Supreme Court decision in the Citizens United case on the 4th anniversary of the decision. Moderated by Demos' Heather McGhee and joined by panelists Garlin Gilchrist of MoveOn.org, Liz Kennedy of Demos, George Kohl of CWA, and Michael Brune of the Sierra Club. Congressman John Sarbanes (D-MD) also joined to discuss his Government by the People Act. 

The panel then discussed opportunities and happenings in states, what the country is like four years after Citizens United, and how people can get involved. Viewers were able to ask questions through Twitter making this an interactive digital experience. 

Democracy Initiative Around Town 

The Democracy Initiative's Greg Moore joined FairVote's Promote Our Vote Workshop: Act Locally, Think Nationally on January 31, bringing together voting rights advocates from across the country to connect and collaborate for a better democracy. 

Greg also moderated a forum on February 4 at the America Votes State Summit in Washington, DC featuring Bob Bauer, Co-Chair of the President's Commission on Election Administration. Bauer highlighted the recently released report of the bipartisan Presidential Commission on Election Administration which makes some excellent recommendations for improving elections including modernizing voter registration, improving access to polls, utilizing state of the art techniques to effectively manage polling places, and reforming standards and certification for new voting technology. 

CWA President Larry Cohen presented at Brennan Center for Justice’s convening The Governing Crisis & Democratic Dysfunction: Exploring Solutions, articulating the continued need to reform the Senate so Senators can do the work they were elected to do. He specifically advocated for continued efforts to reform Senate rules to ensure a talking filibuster, and have 40 votes to continue debate as well as codifying into rules the changes that went into effect for this Congress. 

Government by the People Act 

 

On February 5th, Congressman John Sarbanes (D-MD) introduced H.R. 20, The Government by the People Act at a press conference with Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi. In addition, Reps. Keith Ellison, Chellie Pingree, Beto O’Rourke, John Yarmouth, Anne McLane Kuster, and the leaders of more than 20 Democracy Initiative organizations were present to show their support. In addition to the 133 congressional cosponsors signed on in support of the legislation, more than 50 pro-democracy organizations have signed a letter in support of the bill

The Government by the People Act aims to put ordinary Americans back in charge of elections by allowing Congressional candidates to run for office by relying on small-dollar donations from constituents back home, rather than large contributions from wealthy donors and special interests. Learn more at Public Campaign's companion website: ofby.us 

New York Public Finance Campaign 

In the wake of Citizens United, elections have been inundated by a new wave of money: billions in increased spending by corporations and the super-wealthy. The state of New York, however, stands poised to be a national leader on reducing the influence of big money in politics. Governor Andrew Cuomo has included in the proposed state budget a voluntary public funding system for campaigns and robust disclosure of political donors. The Fair Elections coalition in New York is working with the Democracy Initiative to create a national complement to the New York campaign by engaging national organizations in the effort. 

Democracy Initiative in the News 

Over the last month, the Democracy Initiative has been making headlines for its hard work as part of a renewed progressive movement. 

NPR (2/13/14): "Citizens United" Critics Fight Money With Money:

One of those philanthropists is Phil Radford, co-founder of the Democracy Initiative. Radford says polls show rising anger as Americans see money's influence in Washington. "I think that outrage will translate into people, district by district, asking their members of Congress: What are they doing to make sure America is a democracy again?" he says.

Mother Jones (2/12/14): Potential 2016 Contender O'Malley Supports Bill to Wean Politicians Off Big Money

What makes the Sarbanes bill stand out is breadth of support it enjoys. The bill has 130 cosponsors...including Sarbanes and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) And practically every progressive group under the sun has stumped for the Government By The People Act, including the Communication Workers of America, the Teamsters, Sierra Club, NAACP, Working Families, Friends of Democracy super-PAC, and more. Through efforts like the Democracy Initiative...progressives are mobilizing around the issue of money in politics, and their championing of Sarbanes' bill is a case in point.

Grist (1/28/14): Greenpeace out: Parting shots from a battle-hardened climate leader Greenpeace Executive Director Phil Radford:

"The other thing we've been doing as a response to the power companies have is the Democracy Initiative. I got together with Ben Jealous of NAACP, Larry Cohen from Communications Workers of America, and Mike Brune from Sierra Club to develop a shared unified campaign to get big money out of politics, get all voters to vote, and fix the Senate."

New Democracy Initiative Members 

This month, Democracy Initiative welcomed four new members, ReThink MediaMoveOn.org Civic ActionNational Council of La Raza, and the Rural Coalition

A unique non-profit organization, ReThink Media is focused on building the communications capacity of nonprofit think tanks, experts, and advocacy groups working toward a more constructive U.S. foreign and national security policy, the protection of human and civil rights, and strengthening our democracy. 

With more than 5 million members across the country, MoveOn.org works to realize the progressive promise of our country. MoveOn.org Civic Action, a 501(c)(4) nonprofit organization, primarily focuses on education and advocacy on important national issues. 

National Council of La Raza (NCLR) is the largest national Hispanic civil rights and advocacy organization in the United States, and is focused on improving opportunities for Hispanic Americans. Through its network of nearly 300 affiliated community-based organizations, NCLR reaches millions of Hispanics each year in 41 states, Puerto Rico, and the District of Columbia. 

The Rural Coalition/Coalición Rural is an alliance of farmers, farmworkers, indigenous, migrant, and working people from the United States, Mexico, Canada, and beyond. They aim to build a more just and sustainable food system which brings fair returns to minority and other small farmers and rural communities, establishes just and fair working conditions for farmworkers, protects the environment, and brings safe and healthy food to all consumers. 
 

Thank you again for reading our first newsletter! We look forward to keeping you informed as we work to restore the core principle of political equality by halting the corrupting influence of corporate money in politics, preventing the systemic manipulation and suppression of voters, and addressing other obstacles to significant reform, including the abuse of U.S. Senate rules. 

And, please be sure to follow us on Twitter (@Unite4Democracy) for even more updates and ways to get involved!