By Greg Speed and Sara Schreiber
The 2021 election has provided a new reminder of how fleeting progress in the fight to defend democracy can be. It has also reinforced how hard we must work to protect and empower people to vote next fall.
America Votes is proud of the role our organization plays in electrifying the grid of progressive organizations working to increase access to the ballot box and maximize participation among the voters most underrepresented in our democracy, including Black, Latino, Asian American and Pacific Islander, Indigenous, and young voters.
In the twelve months after the highest voter turnout in modern U.S. history, baseless fears about election integrity and illegal voting continue to be stoked online and invoked on the campaign trail. State legislatures have passed draconian laws in states including Georgia and Texas. Meanwhile, Congress has failed in its responsibility to enact desperately needed voting rights legislation to thwart these attacks on voters.
The ongoing and existential threat to American democracy could not be more clear as we approach a midterm election year threatened by voter suppression and misinformation, and as bad actors continue to sow seeds of doubt about every step of the electoral process. In 2020, we succeeded in overcoming similar challenges to our voting rights despite facing a once-in-a-generation public health pandemic.
Working together, the pro-democracy community of civic engagement groups, organizers, and funders played an essential and underappreciated role in educating and mobilizing a broad, multiracial coalition that reflects the diversity of our country. America Votes is proud of the work we led as part of this effort to execute strategies, provide data infrastructure, and infuse nearly $250 million into our programs as well as hundreds of partner groups to educate, engage and turn out voters. Our investments provided partners on the ground with powerful tools to work in stronger collaboration and reach even more voters early in the pandemic, like access to shared calling and texting platforms as well as best practices for most effectively contacting voters across tactics in this new environment. This enabled major pivots in strategy amid COVID-19, spurring high rates of voting-by-mail and a return to safe, in-person canvassing in the fall.
As we prepare to launch our work to defend democracy in 2022, we will build on what we accomplished in 2020:
The America Votes coalition delivered over one billion coordinated voter contact attempts across the most critical states in 2020 with a focus on historically underrepresented communities. At the core of our work to protect voting and democracy was a “Spread Out the Vote” strategy that engaged broad, diverse constituencies around vote-by-mail and early voting.
Since millions of Americans could vote by mail for the first time, America Votes and our partners were instrumental in carrying out a non-partisan, education-focused program that targeted millions of underrepresented voters. Our outreach resulted in millions of vote-by-mail requests, including 28 percent of all ballot applications in Georgia and 34 percent in North Carolina. From there, we engaged first-time absentee voters through mail, phones, and texts, to ensure would-be voters felt confident and informed about the process for completing and returning their mail ballots. This work was also critical for Americans who wanted to vote early in-person, or on Election Day, to know the “rules of the road” to cast their ballots safely in each state, including practical needs like bringing masks and pens to the polls.
When few organizations had the capacity to restart in-person field operations, we also leveraged investments to help our local partners develop and safely relaunch in-person canvassing efforts. All told, the coalition deployed a massive field campaign that knocked more than 24 million doors in states that endured some of the most rampant misinformation about voting, like Arizona, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Georgia.
Ultimately, these programs reached millions of Americans — from Philadelphia to Phoenix — at a critical time with crucial information about voting delivered most effectively from face-to-face engagement with organizers from their own, often underserved, communities. Going “all-in” on vote-by-mail and getting back in the field knocking doors amid a pandemic was not easy, and many doubted it could be done. However, our program helped defy expectations of widespread ballot rejections and proved the skeptics wrong.
America Votes stands ready to fight voter apathy and expand the midterm electorate by re-energizing the millions of sporadic and first-time voters who made their voices heard in 2020. One clear and undeniable take away from the leadup to Election Day 2021 is that we cannot allow those who cynically sow doubt in the voting processes and disenfranchise voters to prevail.
To deliver another historic voter turnout, we must replicate the work that was so successful in 2020. Over the next year, America Votes will harness the full weight of our coalition of over 400 partner organizations to register, educate and mobilize voters at an unprecedented scale. That’s what it will take to defend democracy again in 2022.
Greg Speed is the President of America Votes and Sara Schreiber is the Executive Director of America Votes.