Building Democracy in the Blue States
As we saw after the 2019 state legislative flip in Virginia, modern Democratic leadership can turn power into action on climate, economic justice, and voting rights, to name just a few issues.
After the 2020 election, Democrats now hold trifectas or legislative supermajorities in 17 states. That level of control allows Democrats to advance local policy reform in a variety of substantive areas.
As part of a power-focused agenda, we see voting rights as a critical issue. Democrats should focus on passing reforms that make it easier for people to get to the polls and that create a popular democracy where the popular vote winners govern the country.
We also see Democratic-run states as desperately needing to convey what is possible with strong progressive governance to set a model for how this country can move in a different direction.
Get to the polls
In the 2020 election cycle, states were forced to administer mail-in elections. The numerous challenges in successfully running this election reinforce the need for an election system that makes it easy and quick for voters to exercise their constitutional rights.
In March 2019, our friends at EveryDistrict Action Fund published an evaluation of the status of voting rights reform in Democratically-controlled states.
Across all states where Democrats now have legislative control, the following policies, partially implemented in many places, would create a consistent and strong state-level democracy:
- Automatic Voter Registration
- Online Voter Registration
- Same-Day Registration
- No Voter ID Requirement
- Ample Early Voting
- No-Excuse Absentee/Mail-in Voting
- Felon Re-enfranchisement
- Voter Bill of Rights
- Long Polling Hours
- Standards to Limit Wait Times
Taking action now is more important than ever. Republicans across the country will use the ginned-up concerns about the 2020 election to push more restrictions, as we’re already seeing in Georgia and many other states. Democrats need to work to install strong voting protections wherever they can.
Create a popular democracy
Three times in American history has a Presidential candidate been elected without winning the popular vote. Each time it has divided the nation and resulted in a dangerous policy outcome – the end of Reconstruction, the unwinding of the Kyoto Protocol and the launch of the Iraq War, and the dangerous and criminal presidency of Donald Trump.
In the wake of the 2020 election, we missed a chance at a meaningful state legislative strategy to get the National Popular Vote Compact passed in enough states to ensure the popular vote winner becomes president in future elections. However, we can retool our efforts with a mixture of state action and ballot initiatives.
Below we show the clearest path to realizing this critical Democratic reform. Currently, 196 electoral votes’ worth of states have passed the National Popular Vote Compact.
The below states and strategies represent the next best opportunity to tackle the remaining 74 electoral votes.
- Democratic Trifectas: Democratic trifectas in Maine, Nevada, and Virginia could pass and sign the compact. While Maine leadership has been resistant, a referendum could make the difference there. See more about referenda opportunities in the Red States section. These states would get us to 219 votes.
- Start with Referenda: The purple states of Arizona and Michigan do not have a path to legislative passage of the compact until after the 2022 elections or, more likely, 2024. In the meantime, referenda could lead to compact passage. These states would get us to 246 votes.10
- Build After 2024: The should-be-blue states of Minnesota and Pennsylvania have no viable referenda options. However, by the 2024 elections, with the right strategies, we should be able to win trifectas and cross 270 votes.
Map. A Path to the National Popular Vote
Build your own path to 270 by choosing which states to add to the National Vote Compact
0 270 Electoral Votes
Part of the Compact
Start with Referenda
Build after 2024
Not part of the Compact
The Blue State political problem and opportunity
While Democrats are fond of exclusively laying the blame for voting rights issues at the feet of Republicans – and they are doubtlessly awful actors in this space – Democratically-controlled jurisdictions are not immune.
New York has some of the most restrictive voting laws in the country. New York City was under pre-clearance before the Supreme Court weakened the Voting Rights Act. New York struggled to report their 2020 election results in a timely manner, with a congressional race that wasn’t decided until February 8, 2021 due to election administration disasters.11
Democrats also held up the passage of the National Popular Vote Compact in Maine and Nevada in 2019. To date, these issues have not been made to be political problems for Democrats who refuse to embrace a more open democracy.
Similarly, as part of a nationwide message for how Democrats offer an alternative for governance in this country, we need to do a better job of leading states effectively. Failures to deliver on what 21st Century responsive governance can look like with Democratic leadership undermine our efforts to grow as a party.
Democrats should take the mantle of leadership to advance progressive policy at the state level and to improve the functioning of government. At the same time, we must trumpet these successes to show how blue state governance makes a difference in people’s lives.
How do Democrats advance a model of democracy and action in the Blue States?
Ensure all Blue States have implemented electoral reform
Above, we have laid out the policies that create a more open and democratic democracy in our states. All blue states should pass legislation to enact these policies in the 2021 legislative sessions.
Pass the National Popular Vote Compact across the states that we can
Similarly, legislators in Democratically-controlled states should take the necessary steps to get us as close to 270 as soon as possible so that 2000 or 2016 never happens again.
Create political pressure to take action on voting rights legislation
Politicians who fail to advance voting rights, which is in both the democratic and Democratic interest, should feel the pressure from their constituents to put democracy on their agenda.
Lead on progressive policy and good government
Democrats have the opportunity to show that progressive policies and good government can work in this country in the states where they have a trifecta (full control of state government). Democrats can and should show how a pro-government party better delivers services, innovates, and meets residents needs better than Republicans.
What role will EveryDistrict play in Blue States?
Extend the EveryDistrict platform to Blue States
In 2020, EveryDistrict provided the only direct-to-candidate fundraising platform for competitive state legislative districts across the country, but it was focused on nine purple states.
By 2022, EveryDistrict will expand this platform to competitive seats in blue states, so Democrats can gain a larger foothold everywhere.
Use EveryDistrict’s data to build a diverse Democratic coalition focused on voting rights and progressive governance
Our strong data platform allows us to understand the best opportunities for more progressive and diverse leadership focused on enhancing voting rights and leading the way on how Democratic policy can govern our communities today and into the future.
As part of expanding our platform to blue states, we’ll highlight candidates who have a demonstrated ability to be true champions in advancing a progressive agenda in the states.