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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: October 7, 2021
Published: January 15, 2020

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

The For the People Act and The Freedom to Vote Act

The For the People Act, the historic democracy reform legislation, passed the House as H.R.1 for the second time in March 2021. In September 2021, the Freedom to Vote Act was introduced in the Senate. This compromise legislation includes the most important provisions of the For the People Act along with new protections to combat efforts at election subversion, like those we saw in the aftermath of the 2020 presidential election.

The Freedom to Vote Act would safeguard the security of our elections, protect the right to vote, end extreme partisan gerrymandering, and begin to overhaul our broken campaign finance system.

Polling

The For the People Act

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

  • Two thirds of Americans support the critical reforms included in the For the People Act (Tulchin, 2021). Other polls also find that over 60 percent of Americans support the bill (Data for Progress, 2021) (Equal Citizens/Data for Progress, 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_juro298 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_u280axj 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