Voter education campaigns will take on a new dimension in the coming months as states across the country move to implement election law changes.
The non-profit Brennan Center for Justice has tallied 165 voting-related bills that it characterizes as “restrictive” introduced in 33 states — a more than four-fold increase from the same period in 2020 when there were only 35 such bills introduced, pre-filed, or carried over in just 15 states.
Practitioners can expect even more legislation to come. The UCLA Voting Rights Project, which advocates for equitable access to voting, is planning to unveil a model code for state voting rights acts by the end of the month.
The idea behind the document is to give state legislators a template that they tailor for their citizens and introduce during their legislative cycles.
“We’re giving voters an opportunity to really validate their rights in multiple arenas,” said Sonni Waknin, the project’s managing attorney and voting rights counsel. “In the model code, we provide an explicit fundamental right-to-vote claim that can be brought in state court.”
Start courts were chosen, she added, because “we have a potentially very hostile federal court system to voting rights.”
Still, Waknin admits advocates are facing an uphill battle following historic turnout levels in 2020.
“I think people are fatigued over hearing about voting rights because we just went through a momentous election and the events on Jan. 6th … But people don’t realize that we vote all year round. There’s always elections happening.”
Pollster Matt Barreto, who serves as the faculty director of the UCLA Voting Rights Project, said practitioners need to be following developments closely.
“What various state legislatures are doing right now to limit access to voting is shameful and embarrassing to our democracy,” he said. “As consultants, researchers, and scholars, we have an obligation to use data, science and the law to advance equal voting rights for everyone and encourage our state legislatures to make voting more accessible not harder. Politicians should try to win elections with better policy ideas, not trying to limit who can vote.”
Meanwhile, practitioners were already telling C&E they’re preparing for another cycle where voter education will be top of mind — particularly when it comes to voters of color.
Democratic communications consultant Xochitl Hinojosa, who recently joined Bully Pulpit Interactive’s DC office as a managing director, told C&E Latino voters will need targeted messaging on voting — and campaigns and groups should start as early as possible.
“You do have to do persuasion, but the education campaign is critical when reaching out to Latino voters. They want to vote. You have to make sure they have the correct information especially with voter suppression and laws constantly changing in states.”
With all of the voting rule changes introduced as a result of the pandemic, 2020 was a good test case for some of these efforts, she said.
“Given that things were constantly changing in states, whether it be vote by mail or when you could turn you ballot in by, it caused a lot of obstacles for the Democratic Party so we did an aggressed paid media campaign in both English and Spanish. We invested more last year than we had in a long time.”
Republicans consultants say they’re also refining their voter-education strategies — particularly in off-cycle states like New Jersey.
“With the expansion of vote by mail last year, the one thing that was different in the early mail program was you needed to have some kind of education component in your mail piece that you wouldn’t otherwise have had,” said Chris Russell of New Jersey-based Checkmate Strategies. “It had to be designed and written so that between your mailbox and the recycling bin you got the message across. I think it’ll carry forward to an extent, but we have to wait and find out what the rules are.”