Common and Popular Reform Efforts

There are many different pro-voters reforms addressing issues of registration, voting, and redistricting going on all over the country, and it can be hard to keep track. Check out our breakdowns of the most common and topical reform efforts going on all over the country.

What is Ranked Choice Voting?
Ranked Choice Voting (RCV) allows voters to rank the candidates on a ballot in order of preference. If no single candidate earns a majority of the first choice votes, then the candidate with the fewest first place votes is eliminated and all votes cast for him or her are reallocated based on the voter’s next choice on the ballot. That process repeats, with the last place candidate being eliminated and his or her voters’ ballots being redistributed to whomever they ranked 2nd, 3rd, etc. until one candidate reaches a majority of the votes. Each round of voting acts essentially as a run-off election between the remaining candidates, and this is why RCV is sometimes called Instant Run-Off Voting.

RCV aims to ensure fairer, more representative outcomes. It protects against situations where the majority preference is split between multiple candidates resulting in the victory of a smaller but coordinated constituency supporting just one candidate, and allows people to “vote their conscience” instead of “voting strategically” because they are  worried about wasting a vote. RCV also discourages negative campaigning by candidates and makes pandering to the extreme ends of the ideological spectrum a less effective strategy, because candidates benefit from being ranked second or third instead of last on ballots where they aren’t the first choice.

Historically, instant run-offs have also helped to elect diverse representatives, particularly in elections with multiple winners, and generally could encourage minority opinions to be voiced.

Learn more about Ranked Choice Voting.

What is Automatic Voter Registration?
Through Automatic Voter Registration (AVR), any citizen who interacts with a government agency, most often the DMV, is automatically registered to vote unless they explicitly decline—making voter registration an “opt-out” rather than an “opt-in” system, which streamlines the process and places the logistical burden on the government instead of the people. According to the Brennan Center for Justice, AVR saves states money, drastically increases registration rates, and modernizes voter roll management.

AVR legislation usually includes voter eligibility oversight and legal defense for ineligible citizens who are erroneously registered. Additionally, many states that have implemented AVR have included privacy protections for individuals who may wish to keep their address undisclosed on the voter rolls.

On a national scale, AVR has the potential to register an additional 50 million eligible voters. Currently, 14 states and DC have already enacted some form of AVR, while 25 state legislatures have considered it in 2019.

Learn more about Automatic Voter Registration in your state.

What is Same-Day Voter Registration?
Same-day voter registration (SDR), also referred to as Election Day registration, allows voters to register and vote at the same time. Normally, voters would have to register well before election day, but 18 states and DC now enable their voters to register and cast a ballot on the same day. SDR laws increase turnout by 5% on average, and a Brennan Center study found that they “do not cause voter fraud, nor do they compromise voter roll security.”

Learn more about Same-Day Voter Registration in your state.

What is Early Voting?
Early Voting allows voters to submit their ballots at designated polling places before election day. In-Person Absentee Voting, a form of Early Voting, allows absentee voters to drop off their ballots at a polling place or drop site before election day. 39 states and DC offer some form of Early Voting beginning anywhere from 45 days before the election to the weekend before the election. Although the exact effects on turnout are inconclusive and difficult to assess, research has shown that it makes the polls more accessible and helps reduce lines on election day.

Learn more about early voting in your state.

What is No-Excuse Absentee Voting?
Many states require voters to provide a reason to vote via absentee ballot, but 28 states and DC have adopted a “No Excuse Absentee Voting” policy, where any eligible voter is automatically eligible to vote absentee (by mail or—in some states—online). In most states, voters must still indicate their desire to be an absentee voter, while in Washington, Oregon, and Colorado, all voters in all elections automatically vote by mail. Many other states conduct some of their elections exclusively by mail. No Excuse Absentee Voting allows more people to vote more easily, alleviates waiting times at the polls, and eliminates the possibility of bias when determining someone’s eligibility.

Learn more about no-excuse absentee voting in your state.

What is independent redistricting?
Redistricting is the process of drawing and redrawing legislative districts in order to ensure equally populated constituencies after the census every 10 years. Since the early 1800s, partisan officials have used redistricting to advantage their own party in state houses and in the U.S. House of Representatives with a technique known as “Gerrymandering.” In almost every state, redistricting is conducted by a partisan commission, so partisan gerrymandering is relatively easy and historically legal. Gerrymandering is done by “packing” similar voters into a district to ensure they cannot tip the election elsewhere, or “cracking” them into multiple districts to ensure they cannot produce a majority anywhere.
Many courts have recently declared certain instances of gerrymandering unconstitutional and the Supreme Court is expected to make decisions this year related to the limits of partisan gerrymandering. Efforts to make redistricting nonpartisan include rigorously choosing independent redistricting committees whose members are ideologically balanced, not currently working in the government, and usually unable to run for office in the near future. For example, citizens in Michigan recently voted to implement an independent commission consisting of an equal number of representatives from both parties, as well as a few independent citizens not affiliated with either party⁠—similar to the commission established in California in 2010. Additionally, the private sector has produced many forms of redistricting software in recent years that create equal, compact, and unbiased districts through computer algorithms. As laws change and more independent commissions are chosen for overseeing redistricting, this software, in an open-source format, may become more widely used.

Learn more about efforts to combat partisan gerrymandering.