About the 50 State Democracy Report Card

 

States’ grades are based on their performance in eight areas described briefly below and in detail in the book You Call THIS Democracy? Each of these areas has been weighted and fits into two larger categories, which contribute significantly to the smooth and fair functioning of our democracy. Data sources follow below.

 

FAIR ELECTIONS (45 percent of grade)

 

Passed National Popular Vote for President (Chapter One): 15 percent

A (100%): States who have passed the interstate National Popular Vote compact, meaning they support electing our president through a national popular vote.

F (55%): States who have not passed the interstate National Popular Vote compact.

Requires Fair Voting District Maps (Chapter Two): 15 percent

A (100%): States who put the drawing of voting districts into the hands of bipartisan or nonpartisan commissions with strong anti-gerrymandering rules.

B (85%): States with bipartisan or nonpartisan commissions and weak anti-gerrymandering rules.

C (75%): States where state legislatures or their majority party draw voting district maps with strong anti-gerrymandering rules.

D (65%): States where state legislatures or their majority party draw voting district maps with weak anti-gerrymandering rules.

F (55%): States where state legislatures or their majority party draw voting districts maps without any meaningful anti-gerrymandering rules.

Note: If the processes for creating voting district maps differ for the state legislature or Congress, the grade is given for the Congressional map drawing process.

Limits the Influence of Money on Elections (Chapter Four): 15 percent

How well a state limits the influence of money in elections is a calculated average of its limits to individual and corporate contributions to candidates; its donor disclosure laws; and whether it offers state or local public financing of campaigns. These are graded as follows:

 

Limits Individual and Corporate Contributions to Candidates

These variables look at whether states limit contributions from individuals and corporations to candidates.

A (100%): States where contributions are prohibited.

B (85%): States where contributions are limited to $1,000 or less.

D (65%): States where contributions are $1,001-$50,000 plus.

F (55%): States where contributions are unlimited.

Requires Disclosure of Contributions

A (100%): States where donors of less than $100 must be disclosed

C (75%): States where disclosure is not triggered until $101-$200.

F (55%): States where disclosures are not required until someone has donated more than $200, or where no disclosure is required.

Offers Public Funding of Campaigns

A (100%): States with some form of public funding available for statewide candidates.

B (85%): States with some locations that offer public funding.

F (55%): States with no public funding options.

CITIZEN PARTICIPATION (55 percent of grade)

 

Limits Voter Suppression (Chapters Six and Eight): 15 percent

This grade reflects the states’ practices that make voting easier or more difficult for citizens and includes restrictions on same day registration, restrictions on early voting, and strict ID requirements as described below.

Election Day Registration

A (100%): State offers Election Day registration.

F (55%): States with no same day registration.

 

Early Voting

A (100%): State has early voting.

F (55%): State doesn’t offer early voting.

 

Voter ID

A (100%): States with no ID requirement.

C (75%): States that require a non-photo ID.

D (65%): States with photo ID requirements and some alternate route to voting.

F (55%): States with strict photo ID requirements that bar many from voting.

Offers Ex-Felon Vote (Chapter Eight): 5 percent

A (100%): States where everyone is allowed to vote regardless of involvement in the criminal justice system.

B (85%): States where voting is allowed to ex-felons after release.

C (75%): States where voting is allowed after release, parole, and probation.

D (65%): States where voting is only restored after release, parole, probation and all fees are paid.

F (55%): States where voting is essentially not restored or where it is very difficult for many ex-felons to ever get their right to vote restored. In other words, though they have served their sentences, they are basically barred from voting for the rest of their lives.

Percent of Eligible Citizens who Vote (Chapter Eleven): 10 percent

The percent of eligible citizens who vote.

A (100%): States where 100 percent of eligible citizens voted. No states even come close. 

B-F: The rest of the grades are simply their percentages rounded to the nearest percent. Most state score in the D and F range.

Offers Automatic Voter Registration (Chapter Eleven): 15 percent

Voter turnout greatly increases when citizens are automatically registered to vote. More than a dozen states have implemented automatic voter registration and more state legislation is in the works across the country.

A (100%): States that offer automatic voter registration.

F (55%): States that don’t offer automatic voter registration.

Note: Two states, Connecticut and Utah offer voter registration at DMV offices but citizen have to opt-in, which is not considered true AVR.

Offers Vote by Mail (Chapter Eleven): 10 percent

A (100%): States automatically mail ballots to registered voters.

B (85%): State automatically send applications for a mail-in ballot to registered voters.

C (75%): States that allow some vote by mail elections, access to no-excuse absentee balloting; or accepts coronavirus as a reason to request a mail-in ballot.

F (55%): States that only offer vote by mail for special circumstances, such as absentee or with a sanctioned excuse. Currently COVID-19 is not accepted as an excuse.

*Note: These rules are in flux and are current as of September 8, 2020.

UNGRADED DATA

Battleground or Spectator State (Chapter One)

Battleground states in presidential elections are neither predominately Republican or Democrat so the outcome could swing either way. (These are also known as Swing States.) Because presidents are elected using the electoral college rather than a national popular vote, battleground states get most of the attention from candidates and shape the public discussion and often policy. Citizens living in spectator states watch elections without much influence on their outcome.

 

Percent who Don’t Vote (Chapter Eleven)

The percent of the eligible citizens in the state who did not vote in the 2018 election. This is calculated by subtracting voter turnout percentage from 100. Numbers are rounded to the nearest percent. (This data is captured in Voter Turnout, above.)

WHAT CAN MY STATE DO TO RAISE ITS GRADE?

 

Every state’s grade is pulled down by voter turnout. States can quickly improve their democracy grade by encouraging turnout; passing the National Popular Vote compact; restricting gerrymandering; instituting automatic voter registration and easy vote-by-mail; and allowing prisoners or ex-prisoners to vote. Limiting the influence of money on policymaking and stopping voter suppression will likely require a multi-prong approach, addressing the issues noted above and in the book You Call THIS Democracy?

 

To get work for change in your state, go here.

SOURCES

 

Passed National Popular Vote for President (Chapter One)

Source: National Popular Vote, Accessed February 2020:  https://www.nationalpopularvote.com/

 

Requires Fair Voting District Maps (Chapter Two)

Source: 50 State Guide to Redistricting, June 7, 2019, The Brennan Center for Justice at NYU Law School. Accessed February 2020: https://www.brennancenter.org/our-work/research-reports/50-state-guide-redistricting

 

Limits the Influence of Money on Elections (Chapter Four)

Limits Individual and Corporate Contributions to Candidates

Source: National Conference of State Legislatures, State Limits on Contributions to Candidates, 2019-2020, Accessed March 2020: https://www.ncsl.org/research/elections-and-campaigns/state-limits-on-contributions-to-candidates.aspx

 

Requires Disclosure of Contributions

Source: Campaign Finance Institute, Threshold to Disclose Donations from Individuals to Candidates, 2018. Accessed March 2020: https://cfinst.github.io/#disclosure?question=CandDonorExemption&year=2018

 

Offers Public Funding of Campaigns

Source: National Conference of State Legislatures State Public Financing Options 2015-2016 Election Cycle. Accessed March 2020: https://www.ncsl.org/research/elections-and-campaigns/public-financing-of-campaigns-overview.aspx; For local elections: Public Funding for Electoral Campaigns by Demos, accessed March 2020: https://www.demos.org/research/public-funding-electoral-campaigns-how-27-states-counties-and-municipalities-empower-small; New York more recently passed a statewide public funding system.

 

Limits Voter Suppression (Chapters Six and Eight)

Sources: Election Day registration and Early Voting: U.S. Vote Foundation, 2020: https://www.usvotefoundation.org/vote/state-elections/state-voting-laws-requirements.htm; Voter ID data: Spread the Vote, https://www.spreadthevote.org/voter-id-states. All accessed February 2020.

 

Offers Ex-Felon Vote (Chapter Eight)

Source: NonProfit Vote, Voting as an Ex-Offender, Accessed February 2020: https://www.nonprofitvote.org/voting-in-your-state/special-circumstances/voting-as-an-ex-offender/

 

Percent of Eligible Citizens who Vote (Chapter Eleven)

Source: Ballotpedia, 2018 election. Accessed February 2020.  https://ballotpedia.org/Voter_turnout_in_United_States_elections

 

Offers Automatic Voter Registration (Chapter Eleven)

Source: History of AVR and Implementation Dates, Brennan Center, January 2020: https://www.brennancenter.org/our-work/research-reports/history-avr-implementation-dates and AVR Report on Impact of State Voter Registration; April 2019, Accessed Feb 2020: https://www.brennancenter.org/our-work/research-reports/avr-impact-state-voter-registration

 

Offers Vote by Mail (Chapter Eleven)

Source: Many states have made vote-by-mail more accessible to their citizens during the pandemic. The data was updated based on an analysis by the Washington Post titled: "At least 83 percent of American voters can cast ballots by mail in the fall." Accessed Sept. 6, 2020: https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/2020/politics/vote-by-mail-states/

 

Pre-COVID Data: National Council of State Legislatures, All Mail Elections (aka vote by mail), accessed February 2020: http://www.ncsl.org/research/elections-and-campaigns/all-mail-elections.aspx

UNGRADED CATEGORIES

Battleground or Spectator State (Chapter One)

Source: 270 to Win website publishes a number of experts’ predictions of who will win each state’s electors in maps with states rated as safe Republican or Democrat, likely R or D, leans R or D, or tossup. This analysis uses the consensus map that aggregates the experts’ views and lists toss-ups as the Battleground States, plus Maine, where split electoral votes are up for grabs. Note that the analysis will change over the course of the election. Current designations come from the February 2020 consensus map where Nevada, Minnesota, Michigan, New Hampshire, Iowa, Ohio and Georgia lean D or R. These could become battlegrounds. View the most recent map here: https://www.270towin.com/maps/consensus-2020-electoral-map-forecast

 

Percent who Don’t Vote (Chapter Eleven)

Source: Ballotpedia, 2018 election.  https://ballotpedia.org/Voter_turnout_in_United_States_election

 

Feedback: Every effort was made to use high-quality data and correctly record it. New legislation passes frequently and the model will be updated to reflect changes occasionally. Updates, corrections, or comments on the Democracy Report Card are welcome. Please email author@elizabethrusch.com.

*Much thanks to Claire Alongi and Gatlin Webb for their data gathering assistance.

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Copyright 2020 by Elizabeth Rusch