By Adam DuBard, Political Analyst

Because of our powerful pro-democracy movement’s relentless efforts, we came closer than ever to passing the most significant pro-democracy law since the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Unfortunately, after many fits and starts, the Senate failed to protect democracy and pass the Freedom to Vote Act last month

If you’ve been reading media coverage of this year-plus-long battle to save democracy, you’d think no progress had been made. We saw headline after headline declaring our efforts “doomed,” and ”destined to fail.” Before the Freedom to Vote Act was ultimately blocked by the filibuster, one headline even remarked, “Say goodbye to making Election Day a federal holiday and other pro-voting ideas.”  

This bill’s failure, nearly a year to the day after President Biden took office, was certainly a major setback. The Freedom to Vote Act contained several crucial priorities for voting rights activists, including enabling same day voter registration, expanding voting by mail infrastructure, and ending partisan gerrymandering. 

However, these headlines missed the crucial progress made in the process of advancing the Freedom to Vote Act as far as we have. One of the biggest victories achieved in the last year is the visibility and attention that the fight for voting rights has received on the national stage. For example, Senator Joe Manchin, after opposing the For the People Act, helped draft and strongly supported the second voting bill: the Freedom to Vote Act. 

This highlights how public pressure can move senators into action. And although the Freedom to Vote Act didn’t pass the Senate, the bill was debated publicly on the floor for the first time, and numerous senators who previously defended the filibuster changed their tune to support altering the filibuster rules to pass voting rights legislation.

Make no mistake, the rising threats to American democracy are severe. Here at RepresentUs, we’ve been documenting the numerous challenges undermining American democracy, from partisan gerrymandering by both parties to aggressive voting restrictions passed at the local level. Just this year, the United States was classified as a “backsliding democracy” for the first time in history

All is not lost however. In fact, significant progress has been made across the country in the last year, even though these stories may have not received as much media coverage. In 2021, cities from Michigan to Maine to Colorado passed ballot initiatives approving ranked choice voting. As RepresentUs has written previously, ranked choice voting represents a voting system that provides voters with far more choice in elections. Nationwide, ranked choice voting has risen as an option for voters since 2004, and as of July 2021, 9.3 million Americans now live in jurisdictions that utilize ranked choice voting.

A map of the United States showing which states have ranked choice voting. 

Voting rights advocates have won further victories in the courts by suing states seeking to claim unfair advantages through gerrymandering. Earlier in January, the Ohio Supreme Court struck down a proposed Congressional map that would have resulted in a 12-3 Republican advantage. This heavily skewed map would have contrasted drastically with the political realities in Ohio, where the GOP usually wins around 55% of the state’s votes. Just this week, a federal court struck down the proposed Congressional map for Alabama because it violated Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act. The court argued that since black Alabama voters were provided with the opportunity to win only one Congressional seat, this represented a violation of their civil rights. While there have also been setbacks in the courts, these cases represent further opportunities for pro-Democracy activists to achieve progress. 

These victories have been hard-fought, and are merely the first steps toward truly strengthening American democracy. As the RepresentUs CEO Joshua Graham Lynn said, “None of this progress was guaranteed – and that’s thanks to the relentless efforts of RepresentUs, our partners, our members, and our entire anti-corruption movement. In the end, you don’t get what you don’t fight for, and we’re proud of the tremendous progress we helped achieve.” RepresentUs has relied on its staff, members, volunteers, partner organizations, and pro-democracy advocates for all of this progress. Whether advocating for legislation or organizing protests in which activists are arrested for exercising their First Amendment rights, RepresentUs has been on the front lines of fighting corruption and improving American democracy. 

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