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Momentum for Democracy Reform Across the Country

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

Last Updated: January 19, 2022
Published: January 15, 2020

This is part of the Bren­nan Center’s work on the Free­dom to Vote Act.

The Free­dom to Vote: John R. Lewis Act

The Free­dom to Vote: John R. Lewis Act, the historic demo­cracy reform legis­la­tion, is currently being debated on the Senate floor after passing in the House. The bill combines the Free­dom to Vote Act (passed as H.R. 1 in the House for the second time in March 2021) and the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advance­ment Act.

Together, this legis­la­tion would set national baseline stand­ards to protect voting access, end partisan gerry­man­der­ing, safe­guard elec­tions from sabot­age, restore the crit­ical protec­tions of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and much more. The bill has major­ity support from the Amer­ican people and in the Senate.

Polling

The Free­dom to Vote: John R. Lewis Act

The major­ity of Amer­ican voters support the Free­dom to Vote: John R. Lewis Act and support passing the bill with a simple major­ity. 

  • 63 percent of likely voters support the Free­dom to Vote: John R. Lewis Act, includ­ing 82 percent of Demo­crats, 62 percent of Inde­pend­ents, and 42 percent of Repub­lic­ans (Date for Progress, 2022).
    • 53 percent of likely voters support alter­ing the Senate’s 60-vote threshold to pass the bill with a simple major­ity

The Free­dom to Vote Act

Polls show that an over­whelm­ing major­ity of Amer­ican voters support the Free­dom to Vote Act, and that this support extends beyond party lines.

  • Over­all, 70 percent of Amer­ican voters support the bill, includ­ing 85 percent of Demo­crats, 67 percent of Inde­pend­ents, and 54 percent of Repub­lic­ans (Data for Progress, 2021)
    • 81 percent support provi­sions to protect local elec­tion offi­cials in the Free­dom to Vote Act
    • 81 percent support requir­ing post-elec­tion audits
    • 79 percent support provi­sions creat­ing uniform stand­ards for hand­ling elec­tion equip­ment
    • 73 percent support requir­ing super PACs to disclose their donors
    • 69 percent support requir­ing states to follow national redis­trict­ing stand­ards
    • 66 percent support provi­sions prevent­ing state lawmakers from over­turn­ing elec­tions
    • 64 percent support prevent­ing voter roll purges
    • 62 percent support a national Elec­tion Day holi­day
    • 61 percent support allow­ing courts to enforce national redis­trict­ing stand­ards
    • 60 percent support univer­sal mail voting

The For the People Act

Poll after poll shows that a strong major­ity of Amer­ic­ans support demo­cracy reform, includ­ing 85 percent of Demo­crats, 60 percent of Inde­pend­ents, and 39 percent of Repub­lic­ans back­ing the key provi­sions of H.R.1.

  • 68 percent of voters support the For the People Act (Lake Research Part­ners, 2021). Other polls found that two thirds of Amer­ic­ans support the crit­ical reforms included in the For the People Act (Tulchin, 2021).
    • 81 percent of Black voters support the For the People Act, along with 71 percent of Latino voters, and 64 percent of white voters (Lake Research Part­ners, 2021).
    • Other polls found that about 80 percent of respond­ents in Arizona and West Virginia suppor­ted the reforms in the bill, includ­ing major­ity support among registered Repub­lic­ans (End Citizens United/Let Amer­ica Vote, 2021)
  • 59 percent of Amer­ic­ans, includ­ing more than half of inde­pend­ents, say that it is urgent that the For the People Act is passed before the 2022 midterms (Navig­ator Research, 2021)

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
  • 2021 polls found that 61 percent of Amer­ic­ans support auto­matic voter regis­tra­tion (Pew, 2021)
    • 63 percent support no-excuse voting by mail
    • 70 percent support restor­ing voting rights to people convicted of felon­ies after they serve their sentences
    • 68 percent support making Elec­tion Day a national holi­day
  • 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)
    • 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)
  • Another 2020 poll found that 69 percent of Amer­ic­ans support nation­wide no-excuse voting by mail (Center for Public Opin­ion/YouGov, 2020)

Fix our campaign fund­ing system and strengthen ethics rules

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

  • 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)
  • 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)
  • Ahead of the 2020 elec­tion, 85 percent of voters stated that “a corrupt polit­ical estab­lish­ment” was a big or moder­ate prob­lem, more than any other issue floated in the poll (The Hill/HarrisX, 2020).
  • 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, 2020)
  • Only 12 percent of Amer­ic­ans said they had “a great deal” or “quite a lot” of confid­ence in Congress (Gallup, 2021)
  • 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)
  • 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
  • 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
  • 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)
    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

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
  • Another poll found that 65 percent of Repub­lican voters and 63 percent of Demo­cratic voters would prefer Congres­sional districts drawn without bias, even if it disad­vant­aged their party
  • 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
  • A recent survey of Repub­lican voters found that 57 percent support inde­pend­ent redis­trict­ing commis­sions (R Street, 2021)
  • 67 percent of Amer­ic­ans, includ­ing 60 percent of Repub­lic­ans, consider partisan gerry­man­der­ing to be a major prob­lem (AP-NORC, 2021)
  • Another poll found that of Repub­lic­ans oppose partisan gerry­man­der­ing (Repres­entUs, 2021)
  • 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.

  • 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)
  • 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 fear that foreign govern­ments are tamper­ing with vote counts (AP-NORC, 2020)
  • Other 2020 polls found that 74 percent are concerned about foreign govern­ments influ­en­cing news and inform­a­tion Amer­ican see. (AP-NORC, 2020)
    • 68 percent are concerned about foreign govern­ments tamper­ing with voting systems
  • 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)
  • 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 nine states have passed it through their legis­latures. In total, twenty states and the District of Columbia have now approved auto­matic voter regis­tra­tion. In addi­tion, thirty-four 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.
  • Nine states – Connecti­cutDelaware, MaineMary­landMassachu­settsNew JerseyNew YorkVirginia, and Wash­ing­ton – passed auto­matic voter regis­tra­tion legis­lat­ively.
    • Color­ado imple­men­ted an updated auto­matic voter regis­tra­tion system.
  • More than two-thirds of voters in Mary­land approved a consti­tu­tional amend­ment to allow same-day voter regis­tra­tion.
  • State legis­latures in Cali­for­niaNevadaNew MexicoUtah, and Wash­ing­ton passed same-day voter regis­tra­tion laws. The New York state legis­lature also passed a consti­tu­tional amend­ment to allow same-day voter regis­tra­tion, which must be passed again by the state legis­lature before being sent to voters. In total, 20 states and the District of Columbia have enacted same-day voter regis­tra­tion.
  • State legis­latures in DelawareNew York, and Virginia passed laws expand­ing early voting peri­ods. Virginia further expan­ded early voting in 2020. In total, thirty-four states and the District of Columbia now allow no-excuse early voting.
  • Eight states made perman­ent or expan­ded policies that were first imple­men­ted tempor­ar­ily in response to Covid-19, includ­ing imple­ment­ing curb­side voting, allow­ing no-excuse early voting, and send­ing mail ballots to all voters.
  • Maine passed a law allow­ing voters 65 or older and voters with disab­il­it­ies to apply to be placed on an ongo­ing absentee ballot list.
  • Color­ado passed laws expand­ing ballot access for voters with disab­il­it­ies and improv­ing vote centers and regis­tra­tion proced­ures for voters on Indian Reser­va­tions.
  • Wash­ing­ton passed a Native Amer­ican Voting Rights Act and a Wash­ing­ton Voting Rights Act.
  • Virginia passed a state voting rights act, the Voting Rights Act of Virginia
  • Illinois passed a law expand­ing ballot access for voters in county jails.
  • Nevada voters approved a meas­ure adding voting rights protec­tions to the state consti­tu­tion.
  • 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 seven­teen.

Ending partisan gerry­man­der­ing

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

  • Voters in Color­adoMichiganMissouri foot­note1_l6zshkk 1 Missouri voters later over­turned many of these reforms in a 2020 refer­en­dum. Ohio, 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 was then passed by voters in Novem­ber 2020. The New Hamp­shire state legis­lature also passed redis­trict­ing reform with a large bipar­tisan major­ity. foot­note2_1×0a92p 2 The bill was vetoed by Governor Sununu.

Restor­ing voting rights

Since 2018, ten 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.
  • State legis­latures in ArizonaColor­adoConnecti­cut, Louisi­anaNevadaNew JerseyNew York, and Wash­ing­ton also passed rights restor­a­tion laws.
  • 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, as did Governor Reyn­olds in Iowa.
  • Cali­for­nia voters passed a meas­ure expand­ing voting rights for people with felony convic­tions.

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 and Baltimore County in 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. Oregon voters also passed a meas­ure allow­ing stronger state campaign finance regu­la­tions.
  • AlaskaCali­for­niaColor­adoMary­landOregon, 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