Modernize the Vote

Registering to vote should be modern, accurate and automatic. That’s why U.S. PIRG is working to modernize the vote by starting at the point of entry — registration — and passing policies like online, automatic and Election Day registration.

Every American — Democrat, Republican, or independent — has a fundamental right to have their vote counted. 

But these days, despite using computers, tablets and smartphones for nearly every aspect of our daily lives, nearly half our country is still using pen and paper to register to vote.

Registering to vote should be modern, accurate and automatic. But our outdated and often inaccurate system works against that idea, and can leave eligible voters to deal with registration problems when they go to cast their vote on Election Day.

In fact, in the 2012 presidential election, it’s estimated that more than a million eligible voters tried to vote but were turned away because of registration problems. And making matters worse, these outdated systems are generally more expensive and less accurate. One in eight voter records on the rolls is either invalid or has serious issues, many due to human errors from processing paper applications.

We can do better. That’s why U.S. PIRG is working to modernize the vote by starting at the point of entry — registration — and passing policies like online, automatic and Election Day registration.

Our ideas are simple. You should be able to register to vote online and check or update it at any time. On Election Day, you should be able to register to vote — or fix any problems with your voting information — at your polling place. Finally, anytime you interact with a government agency, whether that’s getting a license at the DMV or updating your address at the post office, your voter registration info should be updated electronically and automatically.

This fundamental shift could add millions of eligible voters to the rolls, bringing more voices into our elections and ensuring everyone has the opportunity to be heard. Doing so would also make our elections more secure, and save taxpayers money.

Each state is at a different point on the path to modernizing the vote, and should focus on the set of solutions that will get them there. States should first prioritize online voter registration, before working to implement electronic voter registration at state agencies, streamlining voter databases, and pre-registration. Together, all these steps build toward universal registration through automatic and Election Day registration.

U.S. PIRG has a long history of working on the ground to increase voter participation. Through the New Voters and Community Voters Project, we have accumulated a vast wealth of knowledge about what processes work and what barriers exist to getting citizens to the polls — as well as the local relationships we need to organize key stakeholders to advocate for modernization. Getting more people registered to vote, and getting our country further along the path toward universal registration is a key strategy for increasing voter participation.

Now is the time to act. We need to work for and win commonsense reforms to modernize our elections and strengthen our democracy.

Issue updates

Result | Democracy

With Unanimous Bipartisan Vote, Automatic Voter Registration Bill Passes Massachusetts Senate

With a unanimous, bipartisan vote of 38-0, the Massachusetts Senate today passed Automatic Voter Registration. The AVR legislation would establish a system for eligible citizens to automatically register to vote when they interact with a state agency like the Registry of Motor Vehicles or MassHealth. Approximately 680,000 eligible Massachusetts voters are currently not registered to vote. 

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Blog Post | Democracy

Happy Birthday Citizens United; May It Be Your Last | Joe Ready

This month, the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision turns eight. With all that’s going on in politics, it’s easy to focus on the latest scandal or hot take. But we should take the opportunity on this anniversary to focus on what I would argue is at the root of our political quagmire.

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Blog Post | Democracy

It’s Time to Invest in Our Democracy | Joe Ready

We’ve seen a lot of politicians talking about “infrastructure” recently. While everyone seems to have a slightly different vision of what that catch-all term means, we have transpartisan agreement that we need to do something about our most critical infrastructure. But while our roads, bridges and sewers certainly need work, I’d argue that the infrastructure we most urgently need to invest in isn’t so concrete — it’s our democracy.

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Blog Post | Democracy

Equifax shareholders should shed sunlight on political spending | Joe Ready

On Thursday, the shareholders of Equifax, Inc., will vote on whether or not the corporation should disclose not just direct political contributions but also secret, dark money spending. The shareholders should not let this opportunity to know how their company is spending its money slip through their fingers.

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News Release | U.S. PIRG | Democracy

Victory for Democracy in DC: Mayor Bowser Signs Fair Elections Act

WASHINGTON, D.C.- Advocates and activists celebrated on Tuesday as Mayor Bowser signed the Fair Elections Act, a major democracy reform that will bring small donor public financing to local elections. The Mayor’s signature comes after the D.C. Council voted unanimously to pass the Fair Elections Act in February. Small donor empowerment programs provide public matching funds to candidates who accept only small contributions, rather than relying on wealthy donors and special interests to bankroll their campaigns. 

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News Release | U.S. PIRG | Budget, Democracy, Tax

AT&T, Duke Energy and Disney among the largest corporate donors to candidates in 2016

Corporations from Walmart, to Aflac, to Duke Energy were among the largest contributors to candidates in states during 2016, according to a new analysis of data by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group (U.S. PIRG).

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News Release | U.S. PIRG | Democracy

President Addresses Special Interest Influence in Speech to Congress

In his first address to a joint session of Congress Tuesday night, President Trump referenced his efforts to reform ethics in Washington.

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U.S. PIRG Statement on President Trump’s First Address to Congress

President Trump gave his first address to a joint session of Congress on Tuesday, highlighting his legislative priorities for the coming year. His speech touched on issues ranging from the budget, infrastructure, and special interest influence in government.

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News Release | U.S. PIRG | Democracy

Chicago Board of Ethics Enforces Strong Lobbying Disclosure Laws

David Plouffe, a former campaign manager for President Obama, was fined $90,000 Thursday for failing to register as a lobbyist after reaching out to Mayor Rahm Emanuel on behalf of the ride-sharing company Uber. The fine, the largest ever imposed by the Chicago Board of Ethics, stands in stark contrast to federal lobbying disclosure laws that allow special interests to legally influence elected officials without reporting their work. Congress can follow the lead of this strong local example to pass ethics reforms that require transparency of all lobbying activity.

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News Release | U.S. PIRG | Democracy

Track Rep. Price’s Unethical Investment in Real Time

Following an outcry from good government organizations over Rep. Tom Price’s suspect stock trades, U.S. PIRG has released a new online tool at InvestigatePrice.com, tracking money made by Rep. Price through unethical investments in Innate Immunotherapeutics Ltd.

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Report | U.S. PIRG Education Fund | Democracy

Big Money Dominates in Congressional Primaries

Our analysis of fund-raising data from 2014’s congressional primaries examines the way these dynamics are playing out state by state across the country. While some states show markedly more inequity than others, the picture painted by the data is of a primary money race where large donors carry more weight than ordinary Americans. Nationwide, just under two-thirds of all candidate contributions came from the largest donors (those giving over $1,000). And fewer than 5,500 large donors matched the primary contributions coming from at least 440,000 donors nationwide.

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Report | U.S. PIRG, Demos | Democracy

"McCutcheon" Could Add Over $1 Billion in Contributions to Next Four Elections

We project that striking the aggregate contribution limit would bring more than $1 billion in additional campaign contributions from elite donors through the 2020 election cycle.

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Report | U.S. PIRG Education Fund | Democracy

Elections Confidential

“Elections Confidential” describes how secret donors poured hundreds of millions into the 2012 election through social-welfare groups that are really political vehicles and via shell corporations formed as conduits to hide a funder’s identity. The first post-Citizens United presidential election cycle was bought and paid for by a handful of wealthy donors, but the corrosive influence of money in politics was amplified by the fact that we don’t know who – or what – actually provided much of the funding.

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Report | U.S. PIRG Education Fund, Demos | Democracy

Billion-Dollar Democracy

The first presidential election since Citizens United lived up to its hype, with unprecedented outside spending from new sources making headlines.

Demos and U.S. PIRG analysis of reports from campaigns, parties, and outside spenders to the Federal Election Commission found that our big money system distorts democracy and creates clear winners and losers.

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Report | U.S. PIRG Education Fund, Demos | Democracy

Distorted Democracy: Post-Election Spending Analysis

A new analysis of data through Election Day from the Federal Election Commission (FEC) and other sources by U.S. PIRG and Demos shows how big outside spenders drowned out small contributions in 2012: just 61 large donors to Super PACs giving an average of $4.7 million each matched the $285.2 million in grassroots contributions from more than 1,425,500 small donors to the major party presidential candidates. 

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Blog Post | Democracy

The Five Worst Election Disasters of 2016 | Nick Kauzlarich

As the election cycle heats up, barriers to the polls are becoming a serious problem to more and more voters across the country. Whether it’s waiting five hours in line just to cast a vote or delaying local elections due to gerrymandering, voters have been prevented from taking part in our democracy this primary season. Here are the five worst election disasters of 2016. 

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Blog Post | Democracy

Six Twitter users to follow for all things democracy

This election cycle news about money in politics, election fiascos and voting rights is breaking at the speed of, well, Twitter. If you want to stay up-to-date, we’ve got your back.

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Blog Post | Democracy

Losing the Voting Rights Act: A Timeline | Sarah Friedman

A historic piece of legislation, the Voting Rights Act has protected fair access to the polls since 1965. But recent changes have gutted critical protections offered by the VRA. Here's what you need to know.

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Blog Post | Democracy

The Senate just introduced major election reforms, but will they be enough? | Olivia Lutwak

The money in politics legislation introduced today in the Senate is a major step in the right direction -- but will it be enough to put everyday Americans in control of our elections?

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Blog Post | Democracy

What to watch this primary day | Sarah Friedman

Today, 166 congressional primary nominations will be up for grabs -- more than any other single day this year. Big money could play a deciding role.

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News Release | U.S. PIRG

U.S. PIRG is calling on every state to establish an emergency universal absentee voting system to eliminate the need to physically go to the polls at a time where doing so could put voters’ health at risk. This would allow all registered voters to be mailed an absentee ballot if physically visiting the polls were unsafe.

News Release | Maryland PIRG

 A report released today by Maryland PIRG Foundation finds that the people and entities that donate to Maryland’s Gubernatorial campaigns are not reflective of Marylanders who are eligible to vote in these elections. The report finds that the money raised comes primarily from out of state or non individuals who contribute disproportionately large sums of money.

Report | Maryland PIRG

In Maryland’s gubernatorial elections, the people and companies that donate to campaigns are not reflective of the Marylanders who vote in these elections. On average, donors make large contributions that most Marylanders can’t afford, only a small percentage of the population is making contributions, and the majority of money comes from donors who aren’t eligible to vote in these elections. 

Blog Post

To many, Iowa caucuses seem a bit confusing, but there is something valuable about the process of caucusing. Caucussing attempts to address a real problem in American politics: limited voter choice. When you only have one vote, you often have to decide between a candidate who most closely shares your values and the candidate you think is most likely to win.  But after watching the 2020 caucuses, there has to be a simpler, better way to assess the will of the voters. Fortunately, there is, and it’s called ranked-choice voting (RCV).

Report | U.S. PIRG

After a historic run of small donor contributions to presidential candidates throughout most of 2019, U.S. PIRG found big money -- contributions greater than $200-- has reclaimed its role as the top source of fundraising for candidates. This is according to a new analysis of 2020 fourth quarter Federal Election Commission data.  

Democracy

A somber anniversary: 10 years after the Citizens United decision

January 15th marked the 10th anniversary of the Supreme Court's Citizens United ruling, widely blamed for opening the floodgates to special interest spending in our elections. U.S. legislators joined PIRG and other pro-democracy organizations to decry the ongoing harm caused by the ruling—and to highlight the growth of the pro-reform movement. 

 

Democracy | U.S. PIRG

Small donors are driving the 2020 presidential race

For years, it has been impossible to run for office without relying heavily on large dollar donations. While big money still has disproportionate influence, a combination of technological and cultural changes have made it possible for candidates for president to run for office while relying primarily on small-donor money.

 
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