Skip Navigation
Resource

Momentum for Democracy Reform Across the Country

Americans overwhelmingly support key democracy reforms. Momentum is building across the country.

Last Updated: June 23, 2020
Published: January 15, 2020

This is part of the Brennan Center's work on H.R.1 - Democracy Reform.

A Historic Moment

H.R.1, the For the People Act of 2019, passed the House of Representatives in March 2019 with 234 votes in favor. The Senate version of the legislation, S.949, has been cosponsored by all 47 Senate Democrats. Furthermore, every major 2020 presidential contender has expressed support for critical democracy reforms.

Polling

Poll after poll shows that a strong majority of Americans support democracy reform, including bipartisan majorities backing the key provisions of H.R.1.

Make it easier to vote

Americans overwhelmingly support making it easier to register to vote and cast a ballot. This support extends to efforts to expand vote-by-mail and other reforms in response to Covid-19.

  • Two thirds of Americans, including majorities of both parties, support automatic voter registration. (PRRI/The Atlantic, 2018)
    • More than 70 percent support restoring voting rights to people convicted of felonies after they serve their sentences
    • 61 percent support same-day voter registration
  • Another poll also finds that two thirds of Americans agree that “everything possible should be done to make it easy for every citizen to vote” (Pew, 2018)
    • 69 percent support restoring voting rights to people convicted of felonies after they serve their sentences
    • 64 percent support same-day voter registration
  • 65 percent of American voters support automatic voter registration for all eligible citizens (Navigator Research, 2020)
    • 66 percent of U.S. voters support the expansion of online voter registration  
  • 81 percent of American voters support the expansion of early voting (Navigator Research, 2020)
  • 64 percent of American voters support nationwide mail-in voting measures for the November 2020 elections (Gallup, 2020) 

Fix our campaign funding system and strengthen ethics rules

Americans overwhelmingly support citizen-funded elections, robust transparency, and other safeguards against corruption.

  • National polls in 2015 found that 62 percent of Republicans and 72 percent of Democrats agreed that “We should move toward the citizen-funding of campaigns, allowing individuals to make small contributions that are then matched by a limited amount of public funds.” (Public Policy Polling, 2015)
    • 81 percent of Republicans agree that the system for funding elections needs fundamental reform, and 91 percent of Republicans agree that interest groups that run campaign ads should have to disclose their funding sources
    • 85 percent of Democrats agree that the system for funding elections needs fundamental reform, and 91 percent of Democrats agree that interest groups that run campaign ads should have to disclose their funding sources
  • In New York, 78 percent support the “fair elections” proposal for small dollar campaign finance matching (Public Policy Polling, 2019)
  • 77 percent of Americans support limits on the amount of money individuals and organizations can spend on political campaigns and issues (Pew, 2018)
    • 61 percent say “significant changes” are needed in the fundamental “design and structure” of the government
  • 88 percent agree that political groups should have to disclose all their donors in a timely fashion, and 87 percent agree that online political ads should have to say who paid for the ad (Center for Public Integrity/Ipsos, 2019)
  • 71 percent of voters want the FEC to take a more active role enforcing campaign finance laws. Voters rate the FEC's current job performance negatively by a 26-point margin (28 percent positive/54 percent negative) (ALG Research/GS Strategy Group, commissioned by the Campaign Legal Center, 2019)
    • 83 percent of likely voters, including more than 80 percent of Democrats, Independents, and Republicans, support requiring public disclosure of all contributions to organizations that spend money on elections
    • 54 percent say corruption in the political system is an “extremely serious problem” – more than any other issue
  • 90 percent of American voters believe that greater public disclosure of campaign-related donations helps provide valuable insight into a candidate’s interests and allegiances (Citizen Cabinet Initiative/University of Maryland, 2018)
    • A further 86 percent of voters believe that increased campaign finance transparency will motivate candidates to prioritize the common good over donor interests
  • 77 percent of registered voters believe that “passing an anti-corruption bill to rein in the influence of money and lobbying in Washington” should be an important or top priority for Congress (Morning Consult/Politico, 2018)
    • 69 percent of registered voters believe that passing campaign finance reform to “set limits on the amount corporations and private citizens can spend on candidates and issues” should be an important or top priority for Congress
  • 87 percent of voters say that corruption is widespread in the federal government (Rasmussen, 2019)
    • 53 percent of voters say that corruption is a “crisis” – more than any other political issue
  • Three quarters of voters in battleground districts say that ending the culture of corruption in Washington is “very important” – more than any other issue (Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research, 2018)
    • 52 percent of voters felt that cracking down on corruption and getting big money out of politics should be the first priority
  • More voters ranked corruption in Washington as the most important issue for candidates in the 2018 midterms to talk about than any other issue (Kaiser Family Foundation, 2018)
  • Another poll found that 77 percent of registered voters felt “reducing the influence of special interests and corruption in Washington” was either the most important or a very important issue facing the country – the most for any issue except the economy (Wall Street Journal/NBC, 2018)
  • In 2019, 67 percent of Americans reported that ethics in government were a "very big problem" – the second-highest of any issue polled (Pew, 2019)
  • More than half of all American voters believe that their members of Congress hold themselves to below average honesty and ethical standards (Gallup, 2019)
  • More than 60 percent of young Americans, of both parties, blame money in politics for existing problems in American politics and society (Harvard, 2018)
  • An overwhelming majority of Americans, including 90 percent of Democrats, 80 percent of Independents, and 60 percent of Republicans, agree that "We need to take back our government from wealthy special interests and make sure it works for all Americans." (Center for American Progress/GBAO, 2019)
  • 60 percent of voters believe that a corrupt group of elites control the American political system (Ipsos, 2019)
  • Only 20 percent of Americans are satisfied with the nation’s campaign finance laws – the lowest level of satisfaction for any of the 22 policy areas in the poll (Gallup, 2019)
  • Polls in 2015 found that 85 percent of Americans agree that the system for funding political campaigns needs fundamental changes, or needs to be completely rebuilt (New York Times/CBS News, 2015)

End partisan gerrymandering

Americans overwhelmingly support ensuring a fair redistricting process.

  • 73 percent of Americans prefer Congressional districts drawn free of bias, even if it costs their party seats (Lake Research Partners and WPA Intelligence, commissioned by the Campaign Legal Center, 2017)
    • 62 percent were less likely to vote for a candidate who supported partisan gerrymandering
  • 62 percent of Americans support creating independent redistricting commissions, preferring independent commissions to maps drawn by state legislatures by a 3-1 margin (ALG Research, commissioned by the Campaign Legal Center, 2019)
    • Only 5 percent of Americans view partisan gerrymandering favorably
    • 75 percent support the Supreme Court establishing rules for when gerrymandering violates the constitution
  • In Wisconsin, 70 percent of voters prefer a non-partisan approach to redistricting as opposed to the current partisan system (Marquette Law, 2020) 

Defend against foreign interference in our elections

Americans overwhelmingly desire solutions that protect against foreign interference in our elections.

  • 85 percent of Americans support requiring paper backups of ballots (Pew, 2018)
  • More than three-quarters of American voters believe that every state should have a post-elections auditing process in place to ensure that votes have been counted accurately (YouGov, 2018)
  • 60 percent want Congress to offer technical expertise to the states to help them upgrade their election systems (Brookings, 2019)
  • 2020 polls found that 76 percent of voters believe that foreign governments impact U.S. election outcomes by influencing voter opinions, and 77 percent fear that foreign governments are tampering with vote counts (AP-NORC, 2020)
  • In 2020 polls, only 53 percent of Americans believe the United States is prepared to keep our elections safe and secure, and only 22 percent are confident that technology companies can prevent misuse of their platforms to influence elections (NPR/PBS/Marist, 2020)
  • Only 28 percent of Americans believe the Trump administration is doing enough to protect U.S. elections from Russian interference (Quinnipiac, 2018)
  • 83 percent of American voters believe that the government is fully responsible for protecting its population from foreign threats to U.S. elections (Gallup, 2019)
  • 70 percent of Americans said it mattered a lot if foreign countries interfered in US elections, and 53 percent are not confident that the United States can effectively defend itself from foreign election interference in 2020 (YouGov, 2019)
  • 70 percent of Americans are confident that the Russian government attempted to interfere with the 2016 U.S. presidential election  (Quinnipiac,2018)
  • 76 percent say technology companies have a responsibility to prevent misuse of their platforms to influence elections, but only 33 percent are confident that tech companies will do this (Pew, 2018)
  • 55 percent of Americans are not confident that election systems are secure from hacking (Pew, 2018)
    • 67 percent believed it was likely that Russia or other foreign governments would try to influence the 2018 midterm elections

Momentum in the States

The past two years have seen a wave of positive change enacted at the state and local level, including many of the key components of H.R.1. Whether at the ballot box or in state legislatures, many key reforms have passed with overwhelming bipartisan majorities.

Making it easier to vote

Since 2018, in addition to other reforms, two states have passed automatic voter registration through popular referendum, while five states have passed it through their legislatures. In total, sixteen states and the District of Columbia have now approved automatic voter registration. In addition, twenty-nine states and the District of Columbia now allow no-excuse absentee voting.

  • In 2018, voters in Michigan and Nevada passed automatic voter registration at the ballot box by overwhelming majorities. For example, Michigan’s Proposal 3 (which also included same-day voter registration and no-excuse absentee voting) was approved by a 2-1 margin.
  • More than two-thirds of voters in Maryland approved a constitutional amendment to allow same-day voter registration.
  • A total of nine states have recently passed bills that expand voters’ access to mail-in ballots.
  • Illinois passed a law expanding ballot access for voters in county jails.
  • Arizona, Georgia, Kansas, and Virginia all passed laws requiring election officials to notify and or/permit voters to cure deficiencies in their absentee ballots. This brings the total list of such states to nineteen.

Ending partisan gerrymandering

Since 2018, voters in five states have passed passed redistricting reforms to end partisan gerrymandering. Similar efforts are underway in other states.

  • Voters in ColoradoMichiganMissouriOhio, and Utah passed redistricting reform via ballot measures, mostly by overwhelming bipartisan majorities. For example, redistricting reform was supported by 75 percent of voters in Ohio, and by 71 percent of voters in Colorado. California, which already has an independent redistricting commission for federal and state elections, passed redistricting reform for city and county elections.
  • The Virginia state legislature approved a constitutional amendment enacting redistricting reform, which passed again (as constitutionally required) in 2020. The amendment will be on the ballot in November. The New Hampshire state legislature also passed redistricting reform with a large bipartisan majority.1The bill was vetoed by Governor Sununu.

Restoring voting rights

Since 2018, eight states have restored voting rights to individuals with previous felony convictions, whether through referendum, legislation, or executive order.

  • Almost two thirds of voters in Florida approved Amendment 4, which restores voting rights for individuals with past felony convictions.
  • In New York, Governor Cuomo restored voting rights through an executive order. In Kentucky, Governor Beshear also used an executive order to restore voting rights.

Fixing our campaign funding system

Since 2018, eight states have passed significant campaign finance reforms to strengthen politicians' accountability to their voters, not to billionaires and corporations.

  • New York passed a historic overhaul of campaign finance rules, including small donor public financing for all state races. A number of other major jurisdictions have also passed small donor public financing in the last two years, including Baltimore, Denver, Washington, D.C., and Prince George’s County, Maryland.
  • 62 percent of Missouri voters approved a constitutional amendment overhauling the state’s lobbying laws and establishing campaign contribution limits. North Dakota voters also passed a ballot initiative establishing an ethics commission and reforming state lobbying and ethics laws.
  • CaliforniaColoradoMarylandOregon, and Washington have also passed campaign finance reforms, including updates to disclosure rules, contribution and spending limits, and protections against foreign spending.

Election Security

Since 2018, state legislatures in Arkansas, Delaware, Georgia, Nevada, Oklahoma, Oregon, and Washington have all passed laws, many by unanimous or near-unanimous majorities, authorizing or expanding post-election risk-limiting audits (RLAs) and making other election security improvements.

End Notes