Philanthropy Can Help Protect Democracy by Fighting for Voting Rights

posted on: October 29, 2012

Image courtesy of Keattikorn /

By Niki Jagpal

The September/October issue of the Poverty & Race Research Action Council (PRRAC) includes an article titled A State of Emergency on Voting Rights. Although the piece is short, it includes very unsettling statistics on the status of voting rights in our country.

It covers four issues that would have a disparate impact on communities of color, lower-income communities, young voters and seniors: Voter ID laws, reductions to early voting, purges and disenfranchisement of people with felony convictions in various states place an undue burden on millions of voters. 

For example, voter ID laws passed in 11 states now require voters to have a state-issued photo ID with a current address in order to cast a vote. According to PRRAC, some 21 million Americans do not have such ID. Affected communities comprise 25 percent of African Americans and 16 percent of Latinos compared to 8 percent of Whites. These laws would also present barriers to voting for over 4 million Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders who will face barriers in securing such documents because of limited English proficiency.

Access to early voting is now restricted in five states that have passed laws to limit this option. African Americans and Latinos are twice as likely to avail of early voting relative to Whites. The disparate impact will be felt acutely among working class communities. Felon disenfranchisement in Florida, Kentucky and Virginia affects a staggering one out of every five African Americans who are disbarred from voting despite having completed their sentence. Lastly, several states are purging legitimate registered voters because of baseless suspicion of their citizenship status.

I’ve written previously about why philanthropy should address the issue of felon disenfranchisement. This article presents grantmakers with more evidence of why they should consider seriously funding the groups that work on protecting voting rights.

NCRP believes that truly exemplary philanthropy responds to the needs of those with the least opportunity, wealth and power. The right to vote is a fundamental civil right. To erect legal barriers that have disparate impact on these communities is actively un-American.

As the article states: “Collectively, we are witnessing the greatest assault on voting rights in more than a century – a true state of emergency.” Coupled with the fact that the Supreme Court is considering undoing provisions of the Voting Rights Act, now is the time for philanthropy to look at groups working on election protection issues. Not just prior to the upcoming election but well-past it, grantmakers can make a lasting contribution to our democracy by investing in groups working to restore voting rights.

Niki Jagpal is director of research and policy at the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy (NCRP).