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, protecting voting rights and democracy, and Get-Out-the-Vote drives.
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 several 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.
In 2018, UUs worked with partners to elect progressive candidates who share our values from working for a Green New Deal, to decriminalizing poverty, defending the rights of LGBTQ people, fighting for reproductive justice, and ending migrant detention and deportation.
The UUA is supporting UU congregations, organizations, and individuals in a major effort for democracy and electoral justice in the 2020 elections. Electoral Justice is a term and practice developed by the Movement for Black Lives. We have analysis, partners, resources and funding for you! See below.
Election Engagement 2020 and Democracy
- Spiritual grounding: Our prayer is for democracy to be a spiritual practice of accountability that resists fascism. -Rev. Elizabeth Nguyen
The Fifth Principle of Unitarian Universalism calls for the right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large.
- Why now? With the increasing control of our government by corporate and special interests, voter suppression, and the alarming rise of authoritarianism, we face many challenges to ensure democracy and a just society. We also have seen a rise in people’s movements led by people of color, women, and others impacted by injustice, a rise in activism, and the election of progressive candidates. This is electoral justice.
- Analysis of mid-term elections and heading into 2020
- “Politics is a struggle for power—over ideas and interests—and after this year’s midterm, two things remain clear. First, voter suppression and intimidation, racism, and corporate money continue to infect U.S. politics like a virus. Second, despite those obstacles, the United States is a much more progressive country than most pundits and political analysts believe. Voters this election cycle embraced many progressive candidates and ballot measures, even in so-called conservative states. And though Trump was not on the ballot, the midterm election was viewed as a nationwide referendum on his leadership and presumably his corruption.”
- Analysis of mid-term elections and heading into 2020
- What you can do: View our Webinar on Democracy & Electoral Justice 2020, offered August 14, 2019. Speakers included:
Rev. Dr. Susan Frederick-Gray—UUA President
Adam Eichen--Co-Author of Daring Democracy (Beacon Press, 2007)
Everette Thompson--Side with Love Campaign Manager
UU State Action Networks & UUSJ in DC Representatives
Susan Leslie--Congregational Advocacy & Witness Director
More than 340 people registered for the call from 40 states plus Washington DC and there were groups as well that watched together from various congregations. UUs are getting ready for a massive effort in 2020 and beyond!
- Webinar video
- PDF of webinar PowerPoint
- Transcript of the webinar chat
- Article by Adam Eichen, related to his comments on the webinar. His call for working systemically for democracy reform and expansion of democracy while we work on the 2020 elections is so on point.
Getting Ready & the Importance of Partnerships: There are over 50 million people in the US who are eligible to vote but who are not registered and millions of registered voters who are infrequent voters.
The most effective voter registration, engagement, and Get Out the Vote (GOTV) efforts are done in partnership with community, state, and national partners. Many congregations already have justice partners whose efforts include voter outreach. Supporting their efforts from door knocking, data entry, phone calling, giving rides to the polls, renting vans, raising money and more is the best way to keep building the movement as we work for electoral justice in 2020. This can be done as we work for climate, economic, LGBTQ, migrant, reproductive and racial justice. These issues are what motivate people to vote. While congregations cannot endorse candidates they can talk about justice and what the various candidates have to say about these issues. There are also many democracy groups that work exclusively on combating voter suppression and increasing civic engagement. See section below on Partners. Partner groups can train congregational volunteers for voter registration activities from door knocking to data entry, obtain lists of unregistered and infrequent voters, provide maps, forms, and software, and track progress.
Three Components of a UU Voting Campaign:
- Connect with a partner and in consultation with them, choose at least 4 times this fall and/or spring for volunteers for voter registration drives.
- Advocate for our UU values, support ballot initiatives for justice, as we organize for civic engagement.
- Get Out the Vote massively! From early and absentee voting to election day on November 3, 2020.
Know the Rules:
UU congregations have non-profit tax exempt status under IRS 501©3 Rules. Advocacy, voter engagement, and political activism are all permissible but endorsement of candidates is not. However, congregations can work with other 501©3 groups that also have 501©4 groups that are allowed to endorse and work for candidates. See:
- Bolder Advocacy - Change the World with Confidence
- Religious Activism: Political not Partisan
- Webinar: Getting Involved without Getting in Trouble: Understanding the IRS Election-Year Guidelines for Clergy and Congregations: Webinar led by Rev. Rob Keithan, Faith Organizing and Training Consultant, and Rev. Rob Hardies, Senior Minister at All Souls Unitarian Church in Washington, DC. Download the PowerPoint presentation.
- 501c(3) Rules: Everything You Need to Know
- The Real Rules: IRS Guidelines on Congregational Advocacy, Lobbying, and Election Work (PDF, 22 pages)
- Voter Registration Rules State by State
Partner and Resource Groups
UU congregations and organizations are working with partners to protect the vote, register people to vote, advocate for our shared values, and get out the vote!
- American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Let People Vote
- 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
- League of Women Voters
- The Majority
- Movement for Black Lives Electoral Justice Project
- National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), This Is My Vote
- Ohio Organizing Collaborative
- Queer the Vote
- Poor People's Campaign
- Project Vote
- Rock the Vote – Getting out the youth vote
- Second Chances Florida
- Spread the Vote
- Texas Organizing Project
- UU State Action Networks
- UUSJ: Unitarian Universalists for Social Justice: Your Voice in the National Capital
- Voto Latino
- 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
- Follow Side with Love on Facebook
- The UU Funding Program has grants of up to $500 for UU congregations participating in voter projects, available beginning January 2020.
- Take a collection, make a donation, and use Faithfy - Crowdfunding UUism - to raise funds for your voter engagement efforts.
Theological Grounding and History
- At GA 2019 delegates adopted a Statement of Conscience entitled Our Democracy Uncorrupted
- UUA President Rev. Susan Frederick Gray Sunday Morning Worship at General Assembly 2018 – This Is No Time for a Casual Faith.
- Mobilizing Towards Electoral Justice: Strategizing for the 2018 Mid-Terms 2018 Webinar with UUA justice staff and UUSJ (UUs for Social Justice: Your Voice in the Capitol) Adam Eichen, co-author of Daring Democracy (Beacon Press, 2017) and Everette Thompson, Lead Organizer, Interfaith Organizing Initiative.
- 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 was 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"
- “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”.
- Why Registering People to Vote is an Act of Faith
- All Souls Unitarian Church Reeb Voting Rights Project (requires Facebook login)
- 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)