In a recent commentary for RealClearPolitics, conservative pundit Hayden Ludwig called for a radical solution to “save free elections in America.” He proposed statewide “bans on nonprofit voter registrations and mail-in ballots” across the nation. In Ludwig’s extreme view, nonprofit voting rights organizations and mail-in ballots are not legitimate means to engage more Americans in our democracy. Rather, they represent a threat to the very soul of the Republic.
Ludwig would have you believe that nonprofit voting rights organizations like the Voter Participation Center and the Center for Voter Information are part of the problem. Although such groups have contributed for decades to the social fabric of America, they constitute a “political machine” in the author’s words and “must be stopped.”
What must be stopped is the demonization, for political purposes, of nonprofit and nonpartisan voter registration groups. Organizations like ours help eligible Americans of all stripes participate in our great democracy. Since at least the dawn of the Civil Rights movement, third-party and nonprofit groups like the NAACP, League of Women Voters, and churches have broken down barriers and helped Americans register and get access to the polls. Sidelining them would be both unconstitutional and undemocratic. The work of these organizations to expand vote-by-mail and increase voter registration efforts is crucial to a healthy nation.
For 20 years now, the Voter Participation Center (VPC) and its sister group, the Center for Voter Information (CVI), have been part of this rich American tradition. The letters we send to American citizens encourage them to register to vote and are not partisan; the mail-in ballot applications we send to registered voters (using official lists provided by the state) never mention parties or politics, either. We are in the business of making it easier for people to get involved, by “sending democracy” to their doorsteps. We’re pretty good at it, too. VPC and CVI have helped more than 6 million Americans register and get to the polls.
Our work focuses on the New American Majority – people of color, young people, and unmarried women. We send voter mail to these demographic groups because they are grossly underrepresented when it comes to registration and voting. In 2020, for example, only 61% of all eligible New American Majority voters went to the polls. By contrast, 75% of voters outside the New American Majority participated in the 2020 elections.
One reason for that discrepancy has to do with moving. Voting is tied to your address, and members of the New American Majority are more likely to move frequently. About 41% of young people, people of color, and unmarried women move every four years, which typically means they will need to register to vote again at their new addresses. No government agency or election office reaches out proactively to these “movers” to encourage them to register at their new homes. VPC and CVI do, using commercial mailing lists to find eligible voters who have recently moved but may have forgotten to register in their new neighborhoods.
In the last four years, VPC and CVI have sent over 500 million pieces of mail and had nearly as many online interactions with eligible voters. We strive for perfection in the high-volume work we do. However on occasion, errors occur. In Wisconsin this month, some recipients of our pre-filled vote-by-mail applications received an incorrect form for the individual addressed. Our commercial printer made a mistake, and as soon as we learned about it we sent a blank absentee ballot request form to any voter who contacted us. Fortunately, the error was limited and nearly 10,000 Wisconsin voters have now used our vote-by-mail applications to participate in the Wisconsin Supreme Court election coming up next month. Our Wisconsin response rate is approaching an impressive 10%. It’s a testament to the work we do in making it super safe and easy to vote.
We must never forget that America is a democracy, and voting is central to who we are. Elections should be a contest of ideas and not a contest about who gets to vote. Third-party nonprofit organizations like ours make it simpler for people to participate. Naysayers aside, we will continue to register and engage voters. And we will work doubly hard to ensure all eligible Americans can make their voices heard at the polls.
Tom Lopach is president and CEO of the Voter Participation Center and the Center for Voter Information.