What’s at Risk?
There is a compilation of evidence that illustrates the myriad ways in which certain voting policies make participation disproportionately difficult for voters in underserved communities. As a result, access and participation gaps along the lines of race, age, income, ability, and education level distort our democracy and the policies that flow from it. When our staff, donors, volunteers, and people we serve are unable to vote, policymakers are less likely to prioritize the needs of nonprofit constituents nor the policy priorities of nonprofit organizations that serve them.
Our sector’s nonpartisan reputation that prioritizes community over political parties plays a pivotal role in framing debates on these issues to be about the well-being of citizens and civil society, instead about which political team will “win.” Independent Sector encourages nonprofits that participate in nonpartisan civic engagement share their expertise with the public and policymakers to improve our collective understanding of how proposed voting and election policies impact communities served by nonprofits.
A Healthy Democracy Requires Equal Access and Participation
The 2020 election is distinguished as being the most secure in our nation’s history, while also observing record-breaking voter turnout. While this election holds the potential for valuable lessons on how to improve elections, many policymakers began passing changes to election processes that risk marginalizing some voters or placing more burdens on already under-resourced local jurisdictions.
Because voting is the cornerstone of a healthy civil society, Independent Sector holds voter participation – particularly in Black, Native, and other communities of color – as a critical indicator of whether all people living in the U.S. are, in fact, thriving. Ensuring every American has a voice in our democracy requires a delicate balance between state and local authority and federal oversight.
In 2021 Independent Sector adopted principles to inform positions on voting and election policies that aim to:
- Increase voter participation,
- Prevent barriers to voting,
- Protect elections to ensure trust, and
- Clarify nonprofit engagement in elections.
Using these guiding principles, Independent Sector adopted a position supporting the passage of the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act. In November, 2023, 29 members of the Nonprofit Infrastructure Coalition wrote in support of this legislation, to ensure new voting procedures proposed by state and local governments do not disproportionately harm communities served by nonprofits.
It’s On Us to Protect Nonprofit Votes
Nonpartisan voter engagement yields a significant return on investment for individuals and nonprofit organizations. Not only are voters more likely to volunteer, give, advocate, and trust nonprofit organizations, but they are also more likely to stay informed about local issues and be sought out for input by future candidates and elected officials.
Ensuring fair and equal access to the ballot box is a first and requisite step toward advancing long-term civic participation. To achieve this, we launched the “Nonprofit Voter Empowerment Project”, a nonpartisan pledge campaign that was developed by Independent Sector in partnership with Nonprofit VOTE to support nonprofits as they work to increase voter participation among their staff, grantees, volunteers, and constituents. Visit the It’s On Us: Nonprofit Voter Empowerment Project website to access the playbook and learn more about nonpartisan voter engagement, permissible activities, strategies, and more.
An equitable and representative democracy is critical to a thriving and empowered civil society. Together, the nonprofit sector remains united in its commitment to dismantle barriers that seek to undermine democracy. Please use the following toolkit to support voting rights legislation.