Navigating State and Local Laws and Barriers to the Ballot
Created in partnership with Access Democracy
The right to vote is the foundational principle of our democracy. American heroes like Fannie Lou Hamer, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and the suffragists fought for every American to have this right. Protecting the vote is more important now than ever, as the Trump administration ramps up efforts to make it harder to vote.
You can fight back by working to improve access to voting in your community. This guide covers actions you can take right now to change how elections are run, and make voting more accessible for every eligible person in your community. These are steps you can take today—they don’t require your state’s legislature to change any laws, or a court to issue a new ruling.
The way that elections are run matters. A study by Charles Stewart, a political scientist at MIT, found that in 2016 more than 1 million Americans weren’t able to vote because of problems like long lines at the polls, mail ballots not arriving on time, and registration problems. That’s 1 million people who wanted to vote and couldn’t—in an election decided by fewer than 80,000 voters across 3 states.
The way elections are run is a mix of federal and state law. From Alaska to Florida, officials at the state and local level are charged with implementing voting laws and rules. These officials work year-round to set up and manage elections, not just on Election Day. You don’t often hear about these officials, and that’s because most of them just want to make sure elections run right. But state and local officials don’t always have access to the resources they need to drive the result we all want: fair, equal, and easy access to the ballot.
The challenges that voters face are often a result of decisions made by these election officials. Just like with any public official, it’s critical that the officials who implement your state’s voting laws and rules hear from their communities. By letting your state and local election officials know that you care about the right to vote, you can have an impact on the decisions they make to ensure fair, equal, and easy access to the ballot—for every voter in your state.
Your election officials need to know that we demand fair, equal, and easy access to the ballot. This guide covers 4 simple steps you can take today to change how elections are run in your community and protect the right to vote for every eligible American:
- Call your Statewide Election Official—so that you can better understand how elections are run in your state—and ask the official to use his or her power to make it easier for all eligible Americans to vote
- Call your Local Election Official—so that you can better understand how elections are run in your community—and ask the official to use his or her power to make it easier for all eligible Americans to vote
- Become a Poll Worker—a friendly knowledgeable poll worker can be the difference between a citizen successfully voting and a voter being inadvertently turned away from the polls
- Register, Register, Register—the first step towards participating in our democracy is to register; so register everyone you know, everywhere you go!
How to Use This Guide
This guide is intended to be a voting access toolbox. It provides information about the critical challenges voters across the country face when they try to cast a ballot—and what you can do to change that right now, without waiting on your state’s legislature to make new laws. Depending on the laws and rules in your state, and the challenges voters are facing in it, some tools may be more relevant than others. Please grab what you need, and help us build a society that values fair, equal, and easy access to polls.
Based on the voting issues your state is facing, you can develop next steps that include advocating with election officials to make voting more accessible, as well as actions you can take directly like registering voters (check out Indivisible435 for more information and tools on voter registration). You may already be in touch with other organizations that work on voting rights issues in your community, and many of them build relationships with state and local election officials. We encourage you to reach out to these organizations, which can be a resource to you and a partner in advocacy. And remember—you are encouraged to engage in respectful, open and honest conversations with election officials about these important topics, using the questions as a guide.
Understanding what’s happening locally, and identifying trends across and between states, will play an important role in voting rights advocacy around the country. As part of the conversations you undertake with election officials, you can record your answers in this survey. We would like to collect this information to identify systemic voting rights issues, as well as election officials who want to be more active protecting the right to vote and can provide important expertise.