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New Report Puts Cities At Forefront Of Voting Rights Battle

Recommended policy reforms could register millions of unregistered voters, tilt future elections


NEW YORK -- Following a wave of progressive electoral victories in city and state races that demonstrated growing progressive momentum at the local level, a new report lays out a variety of tools for cities and counties to expand voter registration and counteract state attacks on voting rights.

The report from the Center for Popular Democracy outlines three policy reforms that would let cities play a greater role in voter registration and, potentially, expand eligibility for millions of new voters by:

  1. Registering residents to vote when they interact with local agencies, such as human services or affordable housing agencies;

  2. Registering high school students to vote in their schools; and

  3. Expanding access to pre-registration of 16- and 17-year olds in states that allow pre-registration.

The reforms could be a gamechanger for future elections, letting cities play a greater role in registering and raising the participation of their own residents. The report estimates, for example, that in just four cities in Florida (Miami, Orlando, Jacksonville and Tampa) nearly 120,000 citizens would be eligible for these reforms. It also cites the experience of jurisdictions such as New York City and Fairfax County, Virginia, that have implemented similar reforms and improved voter registration and turnout.

“In the face of growing attacks on voting rights at the state and federal level, cities have a responsibility to step up and protect voting rights and participation, particularly for low-income communities, communities of color, and young people,” said Emma Greenman, author of the report and Director of Voting Rights and Democracy at the Center for Popular Democracy. “There has been growing grassroots interest in expanding voter access in cities across the country. This report provides a roadmap for local elected officials and community members to help turn those ideas into reality.”

Although these reforms are innovative and relatively new, there have been a handful of campaigns to achieve the reforms recommended in the report. In Texas, for example, the Texas Organizing Project Education Fund (TOPEF) and the Texas Civil Rights Project (TCRP) have been advocating to enforce state-mandated high school registration laws and implement voter registration programs in Harris County High Schools that have lacked proper compliance.

Moving these campaigns forward, the report argues, could let cities better deliver on the promise of a representative, inclusive democracy. The report zeroes in on cities in states that have had a particularly antagonistic record on voting rights, including Arizona, Florida, Ohio, Texas, and Wisconsin. In these states, the report argues, more voter registration and participation at the local level could combat the negative effects of state restrictions and actions that have limited access to the ballot box.

The reforms would be particularly critical to increasing voter registration in communities of color, which have long faced barriers to register and vote. The report notes, for example, that Black voters are three times more likely to register to vote at a public agency than white voters, and that Latinx voters are four times more likely to do so. Today, 43 percent of eligible Latinxs, 44 percent of eligible Asian Americans and 30 percent of Black people are not registered to vote - as compared to more than 70 percent of white Americans. Offering voter registration in local agencies and schools can directly address these racial disparities by making it easier to overcome hurdles to registration.



Center for Popular Democracy promotes equity, opportunity, and a dynamic democracy in partnership with innovative base-building organizations, organizing networks and alliances, and progressive unions across the country. CPD builds the strength and capacity of democratic organizations to envision and advance a pro-worker, pro-immigrant, racial justice agenda


Media Contact:

Samy Nemir, solivares@populardemocracy.org, (929) 285-9623