Voting Rights, Election Reform, and Democracy
One of the fundamental principles of the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) is the use of the democratic process. As an expression of our faith, many Unitarian Universalist (UU) congregations engage in voter registration, election reform, and protecting voting rights and democracy.,
Defending the right to vote has been central to the work of the UUA and at the core of Unitarian Universalism for decades—from expanding enfranchisement for women and Black people to advocating for a path to citizenship for immigrants; from our history of civil rights engagement to taking on the New Jim Crow and white supremacy today. As a faith community UUs are vocal and active about voting rights and have contributed to change throughout history. In the past few years, UUs have been part of a groundswell of voting rights, electoral work, and democracy movements that have emerged and gained even more momentum since the 2016 US elections.
2016 - 2020 Congregational Study/Action Issue: The Corruption of Our Democracy
Delegates at the 2016 General Assembly in Columbus, OH, selected "The Corruption of Our Democracy" to be the 2016-2020 Congregational Study/Action Issue (CSAI) of the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) of Congregations.
The Congregational Study/Action Issue is an invitation for congregations and districts to take a topic of concern and engage it, reflect on it, learn about it, respond to it, comment on it take action—each in their own way. A CSAI is NOT a statement—it is a question.
- Read the complete text of the CSAI, "The Corruption of Our Democracy".
- Download the Corruption of Our Democracy CSAI Study Guide (PDF, 24 pages), (Word, 24 pages).
Take Action on Voter Suppression
On June 25, 2013, the Supreme Court effectively struck down the heart of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 by a 5-to-4 vote, freeing nine states, mostly in the South, to change their election laws without advance federal approval.
This was a huge blow to democracy. People of color, students, people with disabilities, low-income people, immigrants, people with felony convictions, transgender people, people who are homeless, and many others face significant obstacles today in registering to vote and casting ballots.
Over the last few years in 22 states across the country, efforts to suppress the vote have been enacted from passing restrictive voter ID laws and requirements of proof of citizenship, to abolishment of same day voting and early voting, adoption of stringent rules and heavy penalties regarding voter registration drives, and the disfranchisement of formerly incarcerated people. In 2016, these new voting restrictions were in place for the first time in a presidential election.
On June 11, 2018, the Supreme Court upheld the right of the state of Ohio to aggressively purge its voter rolls. The court ruled that states may remove people from the the rolls if they have not recently voted and failed to respond to a notice from election officials. The vote was 5 to 4, with the more conservative justices in the majority.
Now is the time to mobilize to defend the right to vote so that all people can participate in and work to create democracy in our nation. Legislation for automatic voter registration has been introduced in several states. Grassroots advocacy groups in Florida, Ohio, Missouri and other states have introduced ballot initiatives that will re-enfranchise former felons, reduce mass incarceration, and limit corporate influence in elections.
A listing of ballot initiatives and legislation can be found at FieldGuidetoDemocracy.org.
Advocates are looking ahead to the 2020 Census and its impact on voter enfranchisement. There is great concern about the Trump administration’s introduction of a citizenship status question to the census. See the Democracy Initiative’s Action on the Census.
Voting Rights Organizing Videos & Webinars for UUs
- Save the Date! July 12th at 7 pm ET/4 pm PT: Webinar on Mobilizing Towards Electoral Justice: Strategizing for the 2018 Mid-Terms with UUA justice staff and UUSJ (UUs for Social Justice: Your Voice in the Capitol). RSVP here.
- Marching in the Arc of Justice – 50th Anniversary of the Selma Voting Rights Campaign Toolkit
- Getting Involved without Getting in Trouble: Understanding the IRS Election-Year Guidelines for Clergy and Congregations
Led by Rev. Rob Keithan, Faith Organizing and Training Consultant, former director of the UUA Washington Office for Advocacy, and author of the UUA publication: “The Real Rules: Congregations and the IRS Guidelines On Advocacy, Lobbying, and Elections” and Rev. Rob Hardies, Senior Minister at All Souls Unitarian Church in Washington, DC, speaking on the James Reeb Voting Rights Project. A UUMA & UUA Webinar held jointing with the UUMA Clara Barton Chapter on Oct. 5, 2016. Download the PowerPoint presentation.
- Voting Rights & Mobilizing for the 2016 Elections Webinar—June 1, 2016
Susan Leslie, UUA Congregational Advocacy & Witness Director, UUs for Social Justice (UUSJ), and UU congregational leaders share strategies and resources--including UU Funding Program $500 grants--for mobilizing during this electoral season. We need to keep building the movement for change, while taking on the fierce backlash that has risen up. We address faithfully strengthening democracy, registering voters, Getting out the Vote, protecting voting rights, election protection, speaking out on our values, developing community and congregational partnerships and more! Download the PDF (25 pages) of the full slideshow presentation.
- Forward Together! Voting Rights Webinar: On July 13, 2015 Over 500 UUs joined thousands of people in Winston-Salem, NC calling for a restoration of voting rights. View this July 22 webinar to hear about lessons learned and next steps for voting rights efforts and organizing throughout the country.
- Across the country, in 2014 UUs began mobilizing to defend democracy by stopping voter suppression, advocating for voting rights, and engaging in voter registration and Get Out the Vote efforts. Watch the webinar video and download a PDF (29 pages) of the full slideshow presentation.
Find a Partner
UU congregations and organizations are working with partners to protect the vote, register people to vote, and get out the vote!
- American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Let People Vote
- Bolder Advocacy
- Brennan Center for Justice, including their map of where voter suppression measures have passed
- Color of Change Democracy Alliance
- Congregation-Based Community Organizations
- Democracy Awakening and Democracy Spring
- Democracy Initiative
- Earth Day Network: Registering Climate Justice Voters
- Movement for Black Lives Electoral Justice Project
- National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), This Is My Vote
- Poor People's Campaign
- Project Vote
- UU State Action Networks
- UUSJ: Unitarian Universalists for Social Justice: Your Voice in the National Capital
- Join the Facebook Groups UUs Forward Together: Voting Rights & Mass Moral Movement and UUs & the Poor Peoples Campaign
- Subscribe to our UUA Just Acts Newsletter
- The UU Funding Program has grants of up to $500 available for UU congregations participating in voter projects.
- Take a collection, make a donation, and apply to the James Reeb Fund for Multicultural Ministries and Leadership
Theological Grounding and History
- In March 2015, the Living Legacy Project and the Unitarian Universalist Association, presented the Marching in the Arc of Justice Conference, to honor the 50th anniversary of the Selma Voting Rights Campaign. This was a time for us to remember our past, honor our martyrs and their families, and recommit to the struggle for racial justice in the United States. A new Marching in the Arc of Justice Toolkit has just been released for use in your congregation or community group that includes videos from the conference, discussion guides, and small group ministry sessions.
- Rev. Robert M. Hardies: Sermon—“The Fierce Urgency of Now” and “Oh Freedom”
- Rev. William Barber, II: Sermon—Bothered and Baptized by the Blood
- Rev. Lisa Schwartz: Sermon-- "If Not Now, When: For Such a Time as This"
- Rev. Mark D. Morrison-Reed, The Selma Awakening: How the Civil Rights Movement Tested and Changed Unitarian Universalism
- Susan Leslie: Blog—"Why Registering People to Vote Matters"
- UUs have passed numerous GA resolutions on voting rights.
- All Souls Unitarian Church Reeb Voting Rights Project
- Brennan Center for Justice
- Daring Democracy by Frances Moore Lappe & Adam Eichen (Beacon Press, 2017)
- UUA Daring Democracy Common Read Discussion Guide
- Field Guide to Democracy
- Indivisible Guide - A Practical Guide for Resisting the Trump Agenda
- Move to Amend: The UUA objects to the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling in Citizens United (see 2011 and 2013 Actions of Immediate Witness), and has endorsed the move to amend the Constitution to firmly establish that money is not speech, and that human beings, not corporations, are persons entitled to constitutional rights.
- The Third Reconstruction: Moral Mondays, Fusion Politics, and the Rise of a New Justice Movement by Rev. Dr. William J. Barber, II (Beacon Press, 2016)
We know that too often people are excluded from this process due to economic and racial bias. Ironically, the right to legislative representation is denied to the residents of the U.S. capitol, Washington, DC. The UUA works to make sure that those who are eligible to vote can do so, and to extend the right to vote to the citizens of the nation's capitol.
We invite you to learn more about Unitarian Universalism and our commitment to voting rights as an issue of economic and racial justice.
- “Fighting for Democracy: Brendan’s Story,” Ben & Jerry's
- Read about the partnership for voting rights between Charlotte NC UU congregations, All Souls UU Washington, DC and the NAACP: “We affirm and promote the use of the democratic process”.
- Ending the New Jim Crow
- UUs Support Voting Rights Amendment Act
- Why Registering People to Vote is an Act of Faith