In April 2022, Democracy Fund announced a new organizational strategy with a commitment to investing in the power and leadership of communities of color to strengthen and expand the pro-democracy movement, and undermine those who threaten the ideal of our inclusive, multi-racial democracy.
The U.S. voting system was not designed for an inclusive, multi-racial democracy and has always de-valued certain communities, including communities of color, people with disabilities, low-income citizens, and those with intersecting marginalized identities. As a result, people of color face a voting system that continues to be rigged against their participation and power. This flawed design is accompanied by an election administration system long underfunded and weakened by disinformation peddled by an authoritarian movement. False allegations of voter fraud have increased mistrust of election processes and outcomes, led to violent threats against local election officials, and provided a pretext for state legislators to try to seize control of election outcomes.
With these challenges in mind, the Elections & Voting program took a step back to review the past six years of investments and design a new five-year strategy that meets the moment. We seek an election system that consistently produces trusted results, fairly represents the will of the majority of voters, and reflects equitable participation—especially among communities of color. This new strategy builds on the invaluable expertise, accountability, and advice of the many grantees, partners, and leaders we have worked with over the years, all of whom helped inform the direction of this new strategy and to whom we are deeply grateful.
Supporting free, fair, and equitable elections
Our refreshed Elections & Voting program envisions a democracy where people of color hold equal power to influence election outcomes and build a fully representative and participatory democracy. The current election infrastructure needs to function effectively and impartially. As we work towards these goals, we must also reimagine the system to center the voters that have been historically marginalized and oppressed.
To support this vision, we are investing in two areas of work:
- Resilient Elections to strengthen the election infrastructure so it is less vulnerable to election sabotage and election-related violence; and
- Voting Power to focus on equitable participation, voice, and power for people for color.
These two initiatives are built on several assumptions about how Democracy Fund can contribute to the elections and voting field, and where our investments can complement work that is happening on the ground and through other funding partners:
- We believe that robust election administration and election administrators are the last line of defense against authoritarianism. Over the past seven years, we have supported trainings, tools, convenings, and research to professionalize the field of election administration. We will now shift our focus to combatting the politicization of the profession through stable funding and staffing for election administration. When election administrators are well-funded and well-trained, they can expand access to voting and prevent attempts at election sabotage.
- Communities must have the power they need to elect leaders who represent their interests and influence government to be responsive to their needs. Organizers working in communities of color often lack year-round funding to build organizational capacity and conduct essential organizing that would enable sustained political power. Grassroots organizing that centers communities of color needs year-round support that allows them to build sustained momentum for participation in civic life, issue advocacy, and elections.
- More transformative changes are necessary to equalize voters’ power and address the fairness and legitimacy of the election system. Even when people successfully vote, anti-majoritarian structures can reduce their voting power based on where they live. Until we unrig the election system, it is impossible to describe our political system as representing the will of the majority. While we pursue these structural changes, we must advance proactive reforms that expand voting rights and support defensive advocacy to prevent policies that further restrict voting access.
Some changes you will see in our elections funding
After six years of investments and experimentation, we have taken a close look at our strategy and adjusted to meet both the moment and the needs of the field. Many grantees and partners contributed to our learning by participating in evaluations of the Voter Centric Election Administration and Election Security portfolios, and in our strategy planning process. A few shifts emerged from those reflections, including:
- We will deepen our support for state and local organizing groups that are building power in their communities, particularly communities of color, to engage and connect individuals in their communities, empowering them to impact policy when they participate in civic life.
- We will recenter our support for voting rights work at the national level to better complement grassroots organizing and state election policy and advocacy.
- We will invest less in tools and trainings for election officials while supporting election administration in new ways, with an emphasis on how to properly fund and staff election infrastructure, infuse a racial justice lens into election administration, and disincentivize leaders from undermining election results.
- In partnership with our Governance Program, we will move away from incremental changes and toward long-term structural changes in our democracy that support representative and equitable majority rule.
Looking ahead to the next five years
We are incredibly proud of and grateful for the important work our grantees and partners have led over the past six years. We will continue to champion the field and are committed to a responsible shift as we build toward an inclusive, multi-racial democracy.
As we prepare for the strategy launch in 2023, we will continue to learn, adapt, and grapple with several outstanding questions. We will partner with other funders to strengthen elections and ensure equitable voter participation. We will share more information and updates on our website about our work, and we welcome your feedback.
You can expect to see similar updates from our other programs as other organizational strategy decisions are finalized.