Building a healthier democracy requires that we recognize the additional burden of restrictive election laws on communities already overburdened by economic and environmental distress. Communities that don’t have full and fair access to voting rights have a harder time advocating for themselves and preventing environmental abuses. Restricted voting rights and environmental injustice create a vicious cycle. Environmental inequalities create health and economic problems that make it harder for people to engage in the voting process—and being alienated from the political process makes it harder to challenge bad environmental conditions.
Across the country this November, voters have an opportunity to improve the quality of U.S. elections in their states, and for the country as a whole.
Reforms ranging from redistricting to registration requirements and ballot access could lower voting barriers and reduce inequalities in turnout, particularly in environmental justice and other overburdened communities, where our recent analysis showed especially low levels of turnout. A handful of states are also trying to raise barriers to free and fair participation in elections, which we highlight below.
In the following states, these reforms would improve the quality of future elections:
Proposal 2, Independent Redistricting Commission Initiative—the organization Voters Not Politicians collected more than the required 315,654 signatures for the initiative.
A Detroit Free Press poll released last week showed the initiative ahead, up 48-32 percent, with 20 percent undecided. Proposal 2 receives significant support from both Democrats and independents, but is losing by 33-44 percent among Republicans.
Michigan’s “Promote the Vote” which will be Proposal 3 on the ballot, would allow for voter registration up to the day of the election, allow people to get absentee ballots for no reason and allow straight-ticket voting. Proposal 3 received the most support in the poll with 70 percent of those surveyed saying they’ll vote for the proposal, and 25 percent opposed.
Amendment 1 would create a position called the non-partisan state demographer, which would draw state legislative districts. The state demographer would be selected from a pool of applicants, with the state auditor, state Senate majority leader, and state Senate minority leader involved in the selection process. The state demographer would file the proposed map with the existing commissions, which would be permitted to amend the demographer’s map via a 70 percent vote of the commissioners, provided that amendments meet Amendment 1’s redistricting criteria.
Amendment 1 would also address campaign finance and lobbying policies related to state legislators and legislative employees. The ballot initiative would forbid the Missouri State Legislature from passing laws allowing for unlimited campaign contributions to candidates for the state legislature. Amendment 1 would establish campaign contribution limits for legislative candidates and their committees for a single election cycle to $2,500 per person to a state Senate candidate and $2,000 per person to a state House candidate. Finally, the measure would prohibit making or accepting contributions using a fake name, using the name of another person, or through another person to conceal the actual donor’s identity.
With unanimous support from the state legislature and both state party chairs, Colorado will become the first state to have an equal number of Republicans, Democrats and unaffiliated voters on independent commissions that redraw legislative and congressional boundaries. Under the amendment, districts would need to be competitive. Competitive is defined in the amendment as having a reasonable potential to change parties at least once every ten years. Measuring competitiveness would entail evidenced-based analyses, voter registration data, and past election results.
Proposition 4 would create a seven-member independent redistricting commission to draft maps for congressional and state legislative districts. Members would be appointed by the governor and state legislative leaders. A person would not be eligible to serve as a commissioner if, during the four years before appointment, he or she was a lobbyist; was a candidate for or holder of any political or elected office; received compensation from a political party, political party committee, or political action committee associated with a political party.
The following states also have voting rights related initiatives:
Florida: Amendment 4, Voting Rights Restoration for Felons Initiative—automatically restores the right to vote for people with prior felony convictions, except those convicted of murder or a felony sexual offense. A recent poll shows 42 percent of voters plan to vote “Yes” on Amendment 4, while 20 percent will vote “No.” But with 36% undecided, and the amendment requiring 60% to pass, its fate is still uncertain.
Maryland: Question 2, Election-Day Voter Registration Amendment—legislative Democrats voted to place the amendment the ballot. The measure was designed to authorize a process for registering qualified individuals to vote at a precinct polling place on election day.
Nevada: Question 5, Automatic Voter Registration via DMV Initiative—the measure was designed to provide for the automatic voter registration of eligible citizens when receiving certain services from the Nevada Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV).
A handful of other states are moving in the opposite direction, seeking to raise further barriers to voting:
Arkansas: Issue 2, Voter ID Amendment—would require individuals to present a valid photo ID to cast non-provisional ballots in person or absentee.
Montana: LR-129—The Montana State Legislature voted to place the measure on the ballot, through the support of 80 of 91 Republicans and one of 59 Democrats. The measure was written to ban persons from collecting the election ballots of other people, with exceptions for certain individuals.
North Carolina: Voter ID Amendment—This amendment was referred to the ballot by the state by the state legislature along party lines with Republicans voting in favor of it and Democrats voting against it. It would create a constitutional requirement that voters present photo ID
North Dakota: Measure 2, Citizen Requirement for Voting Amendment Initiative—The measure was designed to clarify that only a U.S. citizen can vote in federal, state, and local elections in North Dakota.
These and similar restrictions have been proposed with the support of climate change-denial groups like the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), in an effort to entrench representatives under their influence.
If we cannot fix our democracy, it is unlikely that we will fix our climate. To solve the challenges of environmental justice and policy decisions that are not grounded in evidence or public interest, we don’t just need stronger environmental laws—we need voting-system reforms so communities have the tools to fight on their own behalf. Across the country, it is crucial that citizens get out to vote by November 6 and take part in this historic opportunity to reassert popular control over government and policy making.
For more information on these initiatives and other initiatives in the November election, follow this link: https://ballotpedia.org/2018_ballot_measures
Learn more about the consequences of electoral reforms at: https://blog.ucsusa.org/michael-latner/environmental-justice-requires-electoral-reform-new-analysis