Democracy Initiative Update 06.09.20

Tuesday, June 9, 2020
Our highlighted issues and actions from the democracy movement in this moment of crisis—please share widely.


Black Lives Matter.

The recent police killings of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd, have again exposed the routine cruelty and Black death produced by America’s systemic racism and injustice. Calls for justice and accountability, issued across the country by people fed up with police brutality and violence, have even been taken up by multi-billion-dollar corporations. But in a democracy, justice requires everyone to have a seat at the governing table. And that means overturning generations of disenfranchisement of Black and Brown people and strategic suppression of their votes. Amid COVID-19 and in what is certain to be a historic election year, we know federal funds are desperately needed to ensure safe, equitable and orderly voting in November.

On Tuesday, June 9, DI Executive Director Wendy Fields issued the following statement on how America can turn words of solidarity into action for equity and justice:

“At this moment of crisis, we’re seeing corporate America sharing advertisements and social media messages supporting “Black Lives Matter.” But words alone are not enough; we need to seize the opportunity for change and take concrete action. Right now, that means actively supporting the call for Congress to fully fund safe and equitable elections amid the pandemic.

As a Black woman, I live with the painful reality that the brutal knee of racism can take away the breath of life, the basic right to vote and the bread and butter that feeds my family. The 75 partner organizations of the Democracy Initiative know how important voting and fair elections are to combating the structural and strategic racism that has been used for decades by the wealthy and powerful who defend their positions of privilege by actively demonizing people of color and stoking fear in white communities.

Now is the time to reject any scheme to divide us, and instead focus on aggressive efforts to overcome voter suppression, renew our democratic institutions and expand civic participation.

Our bold, audacious goal is to move to a culture of 75 percent participation by eligible voters. The HEROES Act, passed by the U.S. House and now before the U.S. Senate, includes $3.6 billion to support local and state elections.

If you really want change, if you really want to end polarization and begin to undo racism, it must start with expanded vote-by-mail and safe in-person voting options as part of a fully-funded safe, accessible and equitable election in 2020.

Corporations have thousands and thousands of lobbyists in Washington and spend millions to influence elections. On behalf of our Board of Directors and the 45 million members represented by our coalition, I am urging every one of them to call, write and Tweet the U.S. Senate to immediately provide $3.6 billion for safe, fair and equitable voting. The last thing we need is soothing platitudes and hollow rhetoric. We need to put our money where our values are and take real action to remove obstacles to voting.”


On May 15, the House passed a new $3 trillion COVID-19 emergency relief package dubbed the HEROES Act. The bill includes $3.6 billion in funds for states to expand and prepare their election infrastructures for the November elections, as well as the following provisions:

  • Requirement that states offer online and same-day voter registration
  • Requirement that states offer at least 15 consecutive days of early in-person voting
  • Requirement that no-excuse absentee vote-by-mail is available and accessible to all voters with postage paid by the government
  • Removes the 20% EAC state funding match requirement
  • Provides accommodations for voters residing in Indian lands

The COVID-19 pandemic poses a serious threat to our democracy—Wisconsin’s disastrous primaries that exposed thousands of voters to infection was the first of many warning signs. Despite reporting a 17 times greater increase in returned absentee ballots, Pennsylvania experienced significant technical issues with new electronic voting machines and saw widespread confusion and intimidation regarding fewer polling places and the presence of armed National Guard. Maryland and D.C. primaries led to calls for resignation from top officials and were described by DC Mayor Muriel Bowser as “nothing more than failed execution,” referring to people waiting in lines for as long as 8 hours and hundreds of thousands of undelivered mail ballots.

What’s clear is that our election infrastructure as it stands now is inadequate for the task of ensuring voters can cast their ballots safely, and the $400 million provided by the CARES Act is inadequate—being enough to meet the needs of only five states, according to analysis from DI partner Brennan Center for Justice.

Since last fall, when DI partners coalesced behind the demand for the expansion of Vote by Mail (VBM) at our 2019 Annual Meeting, it has only become more clear that the equitable implementation of VBM alongside safe in-person voting options, early voting, and online registration are necessary to ensure all Americans can vote in November. The solutions are known but costly.

The House passage of $3.6 billion in election funding reflects the rising grassroots demand for fair, safe elections during the pandemic. DI partners are actively engaged in this fight. For example, the AFL-CIO and other labor groups have recently written to congressional leaders in support of the emergency funding. Environmental groups, including DI partners Clean Water Action, Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace USA, Hip Hop Caucus, League of Conservation Voters, NRDC, Sierra Club, also wrote a letter in support of urgent funding for state election systems.

According to an article in the Wall Street Journal, Missouri Senator Roy Blunt and some Republicans support increased funding for state and local election infrastructure, despite opposition to reforms like Vote by Mail. He said in an interview that “it’s likely and its likely necessary” that the next relief package will include more funding. Blunt, a former secretary of state and current chairman of the Senate Rules Committee, also said he is looking at reducing the 20% matching requirement for accessing emergency election funding.

Senators Susan Collins (R-ME) and Michael Bennet (D-CO) recently introduced legislation to drop the matching requirement for states struggling to afford it due to funding concerns related to COVID-19. Former Republican Pennsylvania Governor Tom Ridge has also argued for the importance of safe voting options, and recently said “I frankly don’t think that either party is advantaged by absentee ballot.”

We anticipate that the Senate will take up the HEROES Act later this month at the earliest and possibly the beginning of July at the latest. This is the time to pressure our Senators and demand they provide $3.6 billion to the states to prepare for November. Please use this updated COVID-19 Voting Social Media Toolkit to amplify the call for Congress to provide funding for safe and fair elections.


On Tuesday June 9, at 7:00pm EST, DI Executive Director Wendy Fields will join leaders in speaking at the Vote For Our Lives virtual rally hosted by the Declaration for American Democracy Coalition and the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights.

Wendy’s remarks will ground the current moment in the need for demanding the necessary $3.6 billion in emergency funding for state and local officials to hold fair, safe elections during the pandemic.


The HEROES Act, recently passed by the House, also includes $25 billion for the United States Postal Service (USPS). Due to the COVID pandemic mail revenues are down by at least 30%, creating a grave and rapidly deteriorating financial situation for the USPS. The U.S. Postal Service employs more than 600,000 workers and provides a lifeline for millions of Americans who rely on their local post office to deliver everything from life-saving medications to tax refund and stimulus checks. The USPS is also critical infrastructure for democracy, including—but not only—Vote by Mail. We are all depending on the USPS during this pivotal election year to be there as they always have been—carrying voter registration materials, mail ballots, census info, and so much more that undergirds our democracy.

We encourage DI partners and allies to activate their members by asking them to send an email to their Senators urging them to support the USPS with $25 billion in COVID relief funding. We’ve created a simple tool to allow your members to quickly send a pre-written letter to their Senators. Only the information necessary to send the letter to the correct Senators is required, and none of your members’ data will be captured for our use. It is especially important for Senators in the following states to be educated on this: AZ, CO, IA, KY, ME, MO, KY, TX WY.

DI partners APWU, AFL-CIO, APALA, Common Cause, Communications Workers of America, Daily Kos, Franciscan Action Network, Free Speech for People, Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace League of Women Voters, National Coalition on Black Civic Participation and their affiliates Black Youth Vote, Black Women’s Roundtable, Move-On, and NALC have already recruited more than 275,000 individuals to communicate their support for the USPS. Let’s collectively get that to 600,000—one for every postal worker!

Let us know if your organization has taken action so we can include you in this round up!


In the wake of the recent police killings of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, Dreasjon “Sean” Reed, George Floyd, and Tony McDade, the Democracy Initiative joined the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights and more than 400 partners and allies to demand congressional leadership immediately pass measures to eliminate the institutional practices of policing that lead to brutality and the loss of Black lives.

“Now is the time for Congress to pass meaningful police reform legislation. While we appreciate hearings and resolutions, we need comprehensive measures to happen. We need Congress to truly step up to the plate and protect Black communities from the systemic perils of over policing, police brutality, misconduct, and harassment, and end the impunity in which officers operate in taking the lives of Black people. It is your moral and ethical duty to ensure Black people and communities are free from the harm and threats from law enforcement and to curtail state sanctioned police violence and militarized police responses.”

You can view the signatories, proposed federal reforms, and full letter here.

Democracy Initiative recently joined DI partner Common Cause and over 70 labor, civil rights, democracy, and religious organizations in sending letters to corporate funders of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). The letters to 30 of ALEC’s major corporate sponsors, including Anheuser-Busch, Blue Cross Blue Shield Association, FedEx, GlaxoSmithKline, Koch Industries, Pfizer, and more, urges them to cut ties with the pay-to-play group over ALECs attempts to put the country back to work against the advice of public health officials.

On April 30, the Center for Media and Democracy revealed that ALEC was playing a leading role in the “Save Our Country Coalition,” a right-wing movement to prematurely put people back to work despite the heightened chance for the spread of COVID-19, indicated a shameful prioritization of profits over workers.

You can view the final letters to ALEC sponsors here.

DI partner National Vote at Home Institute (NVAHI) recently released a landmark 50 State Policy Recommendation and Analysis guide, a tool that breaks down the array of state policies on Vote by Mail and ranks them based on five criteria, with policy recommendations tailored to each category. NVAHI designed the document “to inform policy decision makers and election reform advocates of necessary policy changes needed to conduct safe, secure, accessible and equitable elections in the limited time frame between now and November.” Given the unique challenges to our state election infrastructures posed by COVID-19, the state-by-state breakdown and policy recommendations are timelier than ever before.

In addition to their analysis document, NVAHI has also provided their PowerPoint presentation on the report for public use, which you can find here.

A report released May 12 by DI partner Friends of the Earth entitled “Cashing in on COVID: Tax Breaks, Royalties and Stimulus Loans” reveals the extent of the fossil fuel industry’s lobbying under the aegis of the COVID-19 pandemic, including for tax cuts, royalty relief, and stimulus aid. According to Friends of the Earth senior policy analyst Lukas Ross,

“Big Oil is wasting no time exploiting the coronavirus for profit. Polluters fought hard for kickbacks in the first coronavirus stimulus package and they are undoubtedly up to it again. As Trump and the GOP continue their crusade to prop up Big Oil, we must stop the fossil fuel industry from snatching more taxpayer money.”

The fossil fuels industry’s selfish capitalization on the COVID-19 pandemic, which has at the time of writing taken over 108,000 American lives, is particularly indefensible considering the fact that G20 countries already provide over $77 billion a year in public financing to the industry, according to “Still Digging: G20 Governments Continue to Finance the Climate Crisis,” a new Friends of the Earth report released May 27.

* * *