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This collection on American democracy challenges and complements blog posts and opinion pieces that are typical staples of the 24/7 news cycle in the lead up to US elections. You'll find reports about election and campaign administration, voting access and participation, government performance and perceptions, the role of the media in civil society, and more.

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"VOTE!" by Paul Sableman licensed under CC BY 2.0

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Securing the 2024 Election: Recommendations for Federal, State, and Local Officials

April 27, 2023

What are the gravest threats to the security and integrity of U.S. elections? Over the past decade, the answer to that question has evolved. In addition to foreign cyberattacks and influence campaigns, dangers such as intimidation of election workers and conspiracy theorists assuming election administration positions now put U.S. democracy at risk. In the lead-up to the next presidential election, the United States must adjust to this changed landscape and ensure that the democratic process is protected when the nation goes to the polls.

Campaigns and Elections

2022 Primary Turnout: Trends and Lessons for Boosting Participation

March 6, 2023

This report examines turnout trends during the 2022 primary elections, conducted in 49 states and the District of Columbia, compared with turnout during the 2010, 2014, and 2018 midterm election cycles (Louisiana holds its primary on Election Day.) The paper also analyzes whether certain policy changes—such as unifying primary dates or adopting open primary or "top-two" or "top-four" formats—can boost voter participation.This paper is a follow-up to BPC's 2018 Primary Turnout and Reform Recommendations report, which found persistently low participation rates across states and over time.Low primary turnout should be an ongoing concern for political parties, policymakers, and the public, given primaries' outsized influence in our representative government. As these trends have intensified and turnout has yet to reach reasonable benchmarks, bold steps should be taken to increase participation in primary contests. Our analysis sheds light on the ability of various proposals to boost turnout.

Campaigns and Elections; Civic Participation

A Toolkit for North Carolina: Combatting Wrongful Voter Purges

February 15, 2023

When a state or county conducts a program to systematically remove people from its list of registered voters, this is called "voter list maintenance." When done properly, these programs can increase the accuracy of voter rolls by removing people who pass away, no longer live in the state, or have become ineligible for other reasons. However, overly aggressive removal of voters has also become a key strategy for politicians and political operatives trying to suppress the vote. These types of removals can disenfranchise eligible voters, are sometimes unlawful, and are commonly referred to as "voter purges."Wrongful voter purges undermine the right to vote and often target and disproportionately impact voters of color, low-income voters, and young people. In addition, wrongful purges can impact election results, especially in state and local elections decided by a small number of votes.The challenge to combating wrongful purges is that many residents do not find out they were purged from the voter rolls until they are trying to cast their ballot. At that point, it can be too late to fix the problem.This toolkit helps advocates and local leaders:Understand how and when Boards of Elections conduct voter list maintenance and update the voter rolls;Spot and get ahead of wrongful purges; andReport and fight unlawful purges. 


Understanding the Partisan Divide: How Demographics and Policy Views Shape Party Coalitions

February 6, 2023

To win congressional majorities, Democratic and Republican parties must stitch together coalitions that are broad enough to accommodate their stronghold districts and swing districts, but distinct enough to differentiate themselves from each other. How each party builds these coalitions depends, in part, on the demographic characteristics and policy views of voters in districts where they garner most support and how these overlap with voters in competitive districts.In this report, we show how Democratic and Republican districts differ from each other and where they overlap with competitive districts. Democratic districts tend to be more affluent and more diverse than Republican districts, which are mostly poorer and predominantly white. Competitive districts comprise roughly equal shares of districts that are more and less affluent than the district average, but they tend to be whiter than the average district. The winner-take-all electoral system accentuates these differences and reduces the diverse constellation of districts to a binary. This results in an inadequate representation of voters in districts that are far from the median Democratic or Republican district.

Defending Democracy: The Charles F. Kettering Foundation 2023 Annual Report

February 12, 2024

Throughout its history, the Charles F. Kettering Foundation's focus has always been on innovation. Our founder, Charles F. Kettering, believed that "our imagination is the only limit to what we can hope to have in the future."In summer 2023, Kettering announced its new strategic plan, In Defense of Democracy, the result of the foundation's staff flexing their imagination to better meet the needs of democracy. It introduced our new vision, mission, guiding beliefs and values, and outlined five new strategic focus areas that are designed to utilize our resources effectively in the defense and advancement of democracy.Defending Democracy: The Charles F. Kettering Foundation 2023 Annual Report chronicles this journey of transformation, highlighting a year of reflection, dialogue, and action. It is our answer to the question, "What can the Charles F. Kettering Foundation uniquely offer the democracy field at this moment of crisis?" In 2023, we took the first step in our commitment to strengthening existing partnerships, forging new collaborations, broadening our reach and influence through innovative communication strategies, and exploring new lines of research.

Field in Focus: The State of Pro-Democracy Institutional Philanthropy

January 22, 2024

Philanthropic support for promoting a healthy democracy has grown in recent years, marking a period of transformation for the field. Since 2016, an influx of funding, actors, and philanthropic infrastructure has amplified the impact of pro-democracy efforts while infusing the movement with needed dynamism.At the same time, from a funder perspective these developments mean that today's ecosystem is increasingly complex, confusing, and difficult to navigate. Sustaining the benefits of this transformation while avoiding the pitfalls of rapid growth requires a full understanding of funder capacities and needs.Drawing insights from interviews and surveys conducted with 70 institutional funders, this report sheds new light on the state and direction of the democracy funding landscape. It describes:1. Field Magnitude and Growth — estimates of the size, scope, and directionality of democracy-related philanthropic funding.2. Field Focal Areas — insights on major focal areas for funding today, how that has changed over time, and where additional funding may be needed in the future.3. New Actors and Infrastructure — lessons on the experiences of newer funders and the evolving field of funding intermediaries.4. Looking Ahead — outstanding questions for future research and opportunities to strengthen the funding field. 

Growing Voters in Rural Communities: Supporting Youth, Creating Opportunity, and Strengthening Democracy

January 9, 2024

Starting in the spring of 2023, CIRCLE and Rural Youth Catalyst kicked off a nonpartisan learning community with anchor organizations from a diversity of rural places that provide support to young people. The goals of the learning community were to learn from one another about experiences working with youth in rural communities, wrestle with the systemic challenges in rural communities and elections, and to co-create a vision for efforts to increase civic participation, including voting, across diverse rural communities in the United States.This brief, produced in partnership with the Rural Youth Catalyst Project, is informed largely by the Learning Community's insights and reflections. It outlines our collective findings and offers ideas for rural organizations to begin to center youth civic engagement as an integral part of their work.

8 Ways To Protect American Democracy: Safeguarding Elections in 2024 and Beyond

January 4, 2024

This report provides a roadmap to help heal and strengthen American democracy. It explains some of the most pressing challenges that the 2024 U.S. elections will bring and how states, election officials, and the public must not only counter these challenges but also improve election safety, accessibility, and security. The report also looks beyond the horizon of the next election to the long-term challenges that lay at the very root of the crisis facing free and fair elections.

Dēmos 2023 Annual Report

December 28, 2023

From fighting voter suppression and expanding opportunities for voter registration at federal agencies, to uplifting the transformative work of state and grassroots organizers building power in our democracy, we have made our big ideas become reality. And, we have yet to scratch the surface of what is possible.

Labor unions and the defense of American democracy: The fight over ballot drop boxes during the 2022 midterm elections

December 20, 2023

This report analyzes the relationship between local labor union densityand access to ballot drop boxes during the 2022 midterm elections. Areas with greaterlabor union density had considerably more ballot drop boxes per capita than areaswith less density.

Dangerous by Design: How Social Media Companies Are Hurting Our Kids, National Security, and Democracy — and What We Can Do About It

December 18, 2023

Americans of all political persuasions are right to be concerned about unchecked social media. Manipulative social media products are robbing children of their social skills, human relationships, and childhood innocence, and our children's mental health is at a crisis point. Our adversaries are using the online information environment to fundamentally undermine U.S. national security and attempt to weaken our bedrock principles of freedom and self-determination. Our private data is pervasively monitored, sold, and used to suck us in, keeping our attention fixed on social media platforms for profit. Social media platforms push us deeper and deeper into information silos that are not reflective of reality and divide us — at dinner tables, in the workplace, and on Capitol Hill — making political compromise a near impossibility. No democracy can survive such an assault. As an industry, social media is largely unregulated, and social media companies are free of any liability for the harms they cause. Moreover, the rise of next generation artificial intelligence (AI) will make everything that's bad about social media worse, offering targeted opportunities for tech companies to profit from our addiction while leaving behind swaths of destruction.This isn't a future technology crisis. It's happening now. It's clear the initial promises of social media are now outweighed by the harms. But this crisis can be averted. It's time for Congress to act with legislation to tip the scale toward citizens by creating commonsense safeguards for social media companies. As a nation, we need a more responsible social media environment that supports and enhances a healthy democracy and civil society. With responsible design and operations, social media technologies can nourish, rather than erode, our society, our well-being, and our democracy.

The Case for Multiparty Presidentialism in the United States

December 15, 2023

For many Americans, anything besides our two-party electoral system is hard to imagine. Multiple parties and proportional representation, the main alternative, might seem more fitting for a parliamentary system than our presidential one. But the truth is, how a country elects its legislature and how it selects its executive are two separate decisions. Multiparty presidentialism—the system the United States would have if it adopted proportional representation—is common around the world.In a sweeping new review of electoral system combinations published by New America and Protect Democracy, Scott Mainwaring, a leading scholar of presidential systems, and Lee Drutman, a prominent expert on proportional representation, conclude that multiparty presidentialism is the best fit for the United States. In particular, they find that it would:Functionally eliminate gerrymandering, increasing the competitiveness of elections and decreasing electoral incentives to entertain extremism to defeat primary challengers;Allow for parties and governing institutions to more flexibly respond to ongoing challenges; andAttenuate hyperpartisan polarization by empowering compromise-oriented officials.Democracy in the United States is an outlier in many ways—most democracies around the world use some form of proportional representation, and rarely is presidential democracy paired with a two-party system. This unique combination is exacerbating factionalism and political brinkmanship, pushing our democracy beyond inefficiency and towards autocracy.