The Gold Standard of Voting

We interview Nicole Hobbs of Every District, a grassroots organization working to flip states blue. Hobbs shares their report called Blue States: A Voting Rights Action Plan that provides a scorecard of states where there’s already political will to expand voting rights. So if you live in a progressive state, do not take that for granted: get to work ensuring that your state checks all the boxes of the gold standard. She explains what citizens in every state can do to fight for voting rights.

Sarah Kendzior: I'm Sarah Kendzior. I'm a journalist, and author of the book The View from Flyover Country.

Andrea Chalupa: I'm Andrea Chalupa, a writer and the screenwriter and producer of the upcoming journalistic thriller Mr. Jones.

Sarah Kendzior: And this is Gaslit Nation, a podcast covering corruption in the Trump administration and the rise of autocracy around the world.

Andrea Chalupa: And today we are sharing with you an important new report by EveryDistrict, which is a group that we've had on this show before and told you all about, which is doing essential work building progressive infrastructure state by state. The work of EveryDistrict focuses on the silver bullet to get rid of Trumpism in America, which is working on a very grassroots level to help elect progressives to office, all the way from dogcatcher to governor, and try to flip states from red to blue and undo a decade of destructive work by Karl Rove, where he flipped a lot of states from blue to red. And it's in the states where they oversee a lot of these laws and quality of life issues like healthcare and so forth. And the more blue states you could have across the union, the more you can protect yourself against Mitch McConnell and Trump's court packing and against the destructive policies coming out of the White House.

So if you want a silver lining, it's looking at the work of groups like EveryDistrict, and it's working on that essential grassroots level. That is a silver bullet against the forces we're up against today. So today we're gonna be talking to Nicole Hobbs, a co-founder of EveryDistrict. She's gonna be walking us through their report where they looked at states in the U.S. with the most progressive governments at the moment, which means they have the most political will and the relatively easy pathway to pass sweeping election laws to strengthen the elections systems in those states. So basically, what EveryDistrict is calling for people to do is check out their report, see if your state is on there, and if it is, then you have zero excuse not to get involved and to make sure that your state has all of the wonderful benefits of a progressive paradise.

So you want to essentially have automatic voter registration. You want to get rid of racist I.D. laws, and so forth, and so what EveryDistrict did is identify the states where there's political will to raise the standard of voting, reach the gold standard of voting. And trust me—work for that now, because as Sarah can tell you being in Missouri, Missouri has had Democratic leadership that's been chipped away over recent years because of attacks on voting rights, and so do not take a progressive state for granted. If you live in one, fight your heart out to make your state reach the gold standard of voting. EveryDistrict in this interview is going to walk you through how to do that, and what the gold standard of voting looks like.

So wherever you live in the United States, listen to this interview and understand what the gold standard of voting is, and get ideas from their report on how you can reach it in your state. Just chip away at this over the next five, ten years, because we are in the fight of our lives, and you'll be so grateful that you invested this work now because it will protect you and your family and all the issues you care about for many years to come if you achieve that gold standard in your state.


Andrea Chalupa: So thank you so much for being on the show. We're excited to talk to voting rights and all your efforts and research there.

Nicole Hobbs: Great. Thank you so much for having me back. We launched EveryDistrict Action Fund with the goal to expand voting rights in states across the country, and we don't think that this is a partisan issue. It should be easy for people to get on board and just say that yes, we should make it as easy as possible for as many people as possible to vote, but unfortunately, in recent years we've seen states that have fallen under Republican control have one regressive and repressive voting rights measure after another passed.

So the first initiative that we've launched through EveryDistrict Action Fund takes a look at states that we're identifying as blue states, so either states that are democratic trifecta states or states that have a Republican governor, but Democratic supermajorities in the legislature. And we have ranked the 17 states featured in our report on a scorecard with 11 different voting rights criteria, and so that includes everything from same day registration, automatic voter registration, online voter registration, voter I.D. requirements, early voting, no excuse absentee voting, mail-in voting, the felon re-enfranchisement process, polling hours, and a new idea that we've introduced called the wait time standard.

And so each of these 17 states gets a score of green, yellow, or red in these different category areas, and our focus has been to track ongoing legislation in these states. So if you go to our website, you can find resources on where there is active legislation in these states and how to contact your legislator with a message of support on how we can advance voting rights in these states.

Andrea Chalupa: What I love about what you did—if people pull up that website that Nicole just mentioned—and can you say it again, because this website will strike so much hope into your heart.

Nicole Hobbs: Definitely. So it's, and you can click on "Take Action," go to "Advocate," and there you will find all of our voting rights resources.

Andrea Chalupa: And I can't stress this enough: go to this website, the one that she listed. Look up your state in this table to see what voting rights your state is lacking, and to see what legislation is coming up that can expand voting rights in your state, and simply make calls to reps saying, "Hey, I see this is coming up. Please vote yes on it. We need this.".

Nicole Hobbs: Right. If you go to our website, you can see our scorecard, and then if you scroll down just a little bit further, you can see that we have a page for each state featured in the report, and on that page, we've made it really easy for you to contact your legislator. We have a specific message that you can send to them that includes the specific bills with their bill numbers, and we have a button that you can click on where you'll be directed to that state's website so you can look up who your legislator is, get their email, get their phone number, so you can call or email them. This, I think, was an area where there are a ton of groups out there who are doing really important work on voting rights, but what we identified is that there was a need to make it really easy for people to take direct action to be an advocate for voting rights, and so that's what we have sought to do with this new resource that we've put out there, is to make it really easy for you to get engaged in this work.

Andrea Chalupa: Yeah. It's essentially an RSS feed. It's a one-stop shop, and if you look at states like Colorado and Washington state, they are the gold standard of how we should be voting.

Nicole Hobbs: Definitely. Yeah. There are some states that really stand out on this scorecard, Colorado and Washington being two of them. California and Vermont and Maryland are kind of close seconds. They do a lot to make it really easy for people to vote. And then there are some other states that have a lot of red on that scorecard, and there's a lot of progress that needs to be made in these places.

We've been excited to see that there are states that have already made progress in 2019. New York and New Mexico come to mind, where pieces on the scorecard that were red in January 2019 now should be updated to green. And if you go to the state pages, there we have a more interactive version of the scorecard, so as states do make progress on these issues, we're updating them from yellow and red to green. But there are a lot of other states out there with a lot of red and yellow areas where there is this active legislation, and where it's really critical that people make their voices heard to their legislators so that their legislators know there is broad support for these measures as they're making their way through the legislature.

Andrea Chalupa: Fantastic. And when we say the gold standard of voting, what do those states have, that the entire union should have?

Nicole Hobbs: So some key items on here that really make them the gold standard—in particular, states with a mail in vote system. Those states are definitely among those with the gold standard of making it easy for people to vote. And as we continue, this scorecard is the first year of what we plan to be a multi-year effort as we are evaluating these states and hopefully adding more states to the list in future years and different criteria elements in future years, but states that have a mail-in voting system, those states are really making it very easy for people to get involved in voting. They're not making people show up on Election Day. They're not making people have to go and wait in line to vote. So that's an area where we would like to see more states move in the future. Also states that require a voter I.D. You know the repressive effects of voter I.D. have been studied, and so we feel that states should move away from requiring voters to show up to the polls with an I.D. on Election Day. And for states that don't have a mail-in voting system, some criteria that's really important for them is having a robust early voting period, and making sure that people who want to vote absentee can do so without an excuse, then having same day registration, so that people who maybe work a couple of jobs, are really busy, haven't thought too much about the election until right beforehand, if they realize that they're not registered still have the opportunity to register to vote on Election Day and can actually cast their ballot on Election Day.

One thing I should note on our scorecard is there's actually only one state that is green, which is Maryland, and the reason for this is that there are a lot of states on our scorecard that are yellow, and these are states that have automatic voter registration through the DMV or equivalent in that state. Maryland is setting the gold standard here, because they have implemented automatic voter registration through a wide group of state agencies, so in Maryland, any state agency that you interact with that collects enough information to complete the voter registration application will automatically register that person after that interaction with a government agency. And so that is kind of the direction that we would like to see other states moving in, and there are quite a few bills that have been introduced in legislatures around the country that would move more states in this direction, and New Mexico actually just passed a bill in their session that would implement automatic voter registration there. Hawaii has bills that are currently making their way through the legislature, and there's a very important bill in New York that would implement automatic voter registration there.

And I should say that, as I mentioned earlier, this is the first scorecard of what we anticipate to be a multi-year scorecard that will evolve over time as we seek to add additional criteria to this scorecard about how we can improve the democratic process broadly. So if you work for a voting rights organization, if you work for an organization that is engaged in democracy reform more broadly or election security more broadly, we'd love to hear from you. We'd love to partner with you and incorporate your ideas into future scorecards.

Andrea Chalupa: The one thing that gives me a lot of hope is groups like yours that are doing the unsexy—well, I think it's absolutely sexy, personally—but doing like the absolute grind, the grind. Being wonky, getting into the weeds on all of these foundational issues.

Nicole Hobbs: Thank you. Well, we appreciate your help to shine a spotlight on these issues and to help spread the word about the work that we're doing so that more people can get involved to expand voting rights across the country.

Andrea Chalupa: Yes, I mean that is everything, isn't it? So who is getting big fat Fs on your voting rights report card?

Nicole Hobbs: Two of the worst performing states are Delaware and Rhode Island. Each of those states has multiple red boxes on our scorecard, and kind of roadblocks that they've put up to make it difficult for people to vote. So Delaware does not have automatic voter registration. They don't have same day registration. They don't have early voting. If you want to vote absentee, you have to have an excuse. Rhode Island does not have same-day registration, has a stricter voter I.D. requirement, does not have early voting, and again, if you want to vote absentee, you have to have an excuse.

New York is another state that really doesn't perform well on our scorecard, but has been making significant progress. Early in—I believe it was in January that early voting was signed into law by the governor, which was exciting to see. And New York also does not have same day registration, and similarly, you have to provide an excuse to vote absentee, but there's been major progress on both of those issues. They do require constitutional amendments in order to kind of undo the restrictions on same day registration and no excuse absentee voting, but there have been bills that have passed both of those houses to complete the first step in what will be a multi-year process to making improvements on those issues in the future.

And then I think the other state that kind of scores particularly poorly is Connecticut, which has a similar issue to New York where Connecticut doesn't have early voting and requires a strict set of excuses to vote absentee, and on both of those issues again, they're embedded in the Constitution and so require a constitutional amendment to make progress on both of those issues. And what we're doing with this scorecard is to evaluate states where we hope that there is a coalition in place who would support these voting rights reforms. We certainly would hope that this would be a bipartisan effort, but at the very least we would hope that Democratic lawmakers in these states would take notice of the agenda set by Democrats in the house with HR 1 and the types of reforms that were included in that bill.

But certainly, in many ways, out of the states where there is a dire need to protect voting rights—like Pennsylvania, like Michigan, like Wisconsin—are still states that are under Republican control, at least as it relates to their legislatures, so we haven't evaluated them in this scorecard, but if you live in one of those three states, I would still encourage you to contact your legislator and express support for voting rights reform there.

Andrea Chalupa: So what I love about your strategy, and if people are wondering, "Wait a minute. I thought you're making as simple as possible. Why aren't you doing the entire union?" And it's a simple fact: you're going where there's already political will on the ground and pushing these laws through so we can secure these states while we have some really strong bipartisan momentum on the ground there.

Nicole Hobbs: Exactly.

Andrea Chalupa: We offer you here on Gaslit Nation a toolbox on how we can take back our country and chip away at all of the Republican rot that has spread across our country.

Nicole Hobbs: Right. If you live in a state that is not on our scorecard, you don't have to do this alone. Reach out to me, and I am happy to talk with you, whether you live in a quote-unquote "purple state" or even if you live in a bright red state, I'm happy to talk to you about how you can make progress, and certainly there are other great local groups in your state who you could connect with, who I'm sure are working on these issues even though they may be in a difficult policy environment to make change.

Andrea Chalupa: Right. Even if you're in a deep red state, like Kansas was and still is, you can still shine your light. So we thank you so much Nicole, and again never forget that we on Gaslit Nation stare into the dark abyss and the abyss stares back, and it's groups like yours, it's efforts like yours, that help sustain me in my work, and I really appreciate all that you're doing, and you're always welcome here to give us updates.

Nicole Hobbs: Thank you. I was so happy to be back. And again, for those of you listening out there, I encourage you to go to our website, Check out the resources that we have, and if you're interested in learning more, you can find our email on our website, and I'd love to hear from you.

Andrea Chalupa: Great. Thank you.

Nicole Hobbs: Thank you.

Andrea Chalupa