When voting rights are under attack, what should nonprofits do? Stand up – fight back!


Natalie Roetzel Ossenfort


Voting Rights

On March 25, Georgia Governor Brian Kemp signed in to law a bill that will make it more difficult for voters to make their voices heard at the polls.  The legislation contains several troubling provisions, including those that limit the amount of time available to voters to request absentee ballots, impose strict new ID requirements for some voters, and effectively ban the use of mobile voting centers. The signing of the law prompted swift legal challenges and opposition from corporate interests, but despite the fallout, many other states like Texas, Florida, and Arizona are continuing to aggressively pursue similar legislation.

This raises the question: What can nonprofits do NOW to fight back against voter suppression and legislation aimed at further restricting the right to vote?

 Nonprofit organizations, including 501(c)(3) public charities, can speak out. They can raise their voices in favor of election laws that provide all eligible voters easy and safe access to the polls and against those that do the contrary. If your organization is ready to stand up and fight back, here are some ways to do so:

  • Offer Public Testimony: 501(c)(3) public charities are allowed to support (or oppose) legislation so long as they stay within generous lobbying limits. This means that you can mobilize staff and volunteers to provide public testimony at legislative committee hearings. By forcing lawmakers to listen to the concerns of the communities they are meant to serve, you can generate public pressure and potentially defeat problematic legislation before it goes to a vote.
  • Write an Op-Ed: Nonprofits can also make their opinions known publicly by publishing op-eds that detail how problematic election legislation could adversely impact underserved communities. And if your public charity has made the 501(h) election, this type of communication may not need to count against your lobbying limits unless it contains a call to action.
  • Engage in Corporate Advocacy: Did you hear the news about the MLB All-Star game? After listening to the pleas of nonprofit and civil rights advocates, the league decided to pull the game out of Atlanta in direct response to Georgia’s new voter-suppression law. The decision will undoubtedly mean millions in lost revenue for the state, and it sends a clear message to other state legislatures who are considering similarly disturbing proposals. By reaching out to businesses in your area to encourage them to issue strong statements or take action in opposition to increasing restrictions on voting, you can tug on a state’s purse strings and kill a bad bill.
  • Team Up: The more voices engaged, the better the result when trying to achieve your legislative goals, so why not work in coalition to ensure that your community’s right to vote is protected? Bolder Advocacy’s Coalition Checklist is a good place to start when determining how to structure your collective efforts. By harnessing the support of 501(c)(3)s, 501(c)(4)s, and other types of organizations, you can amplify resistance to increased voting restrictions.