The 2020 elections promise to be pivotal – in fact, among the most pivotal in memory. The results will shape the future of our communities, our states, our country — and the world – in the short as well as the long term.
As President Dwight D. Eisenhower said, “The future of this republic is in the hands of the American voter.”
The right to vote is one of the most precious rights in our democracy – and it is under attack. In the last decade, many U.S. states have made it harder for people to vote, adopting tactics such as stricter identification requirements, polling place closures, limits on voter registration and early voting, and purges of voter lists.
Usually, such tactics hit hardest in specific and more vulnerable populations and communities — including people of color, low-income voters, language minorities, young voters, people with disabilities and naturalized citizens.
Further, the 2020 census likely will result in emboldened efforts to gerrymander, a tactic by which voting districts are redrawn to help ensure certain outcomes.
Nonprofits can help ensure election integrity
Philanthropy can play a very important role in helping to assure that all citizens – regardless of political affiliation – can make their voices heard in next November’s elections. A new report released by the Carnegie Corporation of New York explains how.
In “Voting Rights Under Fire – Philanthropy’s Role in Protecting and Strengthening American Democracy,” the authors trace the history of voting rights and voter suppression efforts in this country. In addition, they describe actions that can be taken by philanthropy-supported nonprofit organizations.
The report’s recommendations to donors include:
- Invest in core support and infrastructure. Provide flexible support to nonprofits focused on voting rights so they can invest in sustainability, relationships, innovation and rapid-response capability.
- Don’t think about these issues only at election time. Help such organizations be more effective on an ongoing basis by providing multiyear support during election and nonelection years alike.
- Support litigation. Don’t shy away from funding voting rights litigation.
- Invest in offense. Support groups at the local and national levels to advance a proactive agenda of pro-voter policy reforms.
- Invest in the grassroots. Avoid the tendency to support only high-profile state and national work. Also donate to grassroots voting-rights organizations in the communities in which you live and work.
Many 501c(3) nonprofit organizations are already hard at work helping to ensure the integrity of next fall’s elections. These include the State Infrastructure Fund, Rock the Vote, The Brennan Center for Justice, Fair Elections Center, Campaign Legal Center and the League of Women Voters Education Fund.
The League of Women Voters has more than 700 local chapters across the United States. While gifts to its 501c(3) LWVEF division qualify for a charitable deduction, gifts to its 501c(4) division generally do not.
There are other 501c(4) organizations fighting for fair elections that do not qualify for a charitable deduction because donations to these groups are considered political donations. Therefore, they cannot be funded by a private foundation or donor-advised fund, but can be funded separately.
Elections a transpartisan issue
Support for the right to vote is a truly transpartisan issue – equally benefiting voters across the political spectrum and ultimately incorporating (in a peaceful manner through the democratic process) a wide range of political views.
“The vote is the most powerful, non-violent tool we have in a democratic society,” said U.S. Rep. John Lewis of Georgia. “The right to vote is precious and almost sacred, and one of the most important blessings of our democracy. Today we must be vigilant in protecting that blessing.”
Next fall’s elections – local, state and national – present a critical juncture in the country’s future. It is hard to imagine a more timely focus for philanthropy.
Charitable donations of any size to organizations that fight to protect the electoral process can play an important role to help ensure that our elections are free, fair and easy for all Americans.
This article originally appeared in the Denver Post, Sunday December 8, 2019. It is reposted here by the author with permission.