Introduction and summary
Election Day 2024 is now less than one year away, and the United States is facing a crisis of faith in democracy. On January 6, 2021, across the National Mall from President Abraham Lincoln’s watchful gaze, thousands of Americans sought to overthrow a democratically elected government1—the very government of, by, and for the people that President Lincoln promised would never perish from this earth.2 While they did not succeed that day, echoes of January 6 continue to reverberate across the country. These anti-democratic sentiments can be seen in rising threats of political violence,3 increases in the number of local election officials who refuse to certify accurate election results,4 and elected leaders who rely on unsubstantiated conspiracy theories to dictate election policy.5
Americans on the front lines of U.S. democracy are still recovering from the fallout of the 2020 presidential election. Now, with the 2024 election less than one year away, the country must not only continue to address these lingering issues but also deal with an onslaught of new challenges. America’s democratic institutions are only as strong as the faith that people have in them; the country cannot afford a repeat of January 6.
It is incumbent on all Americans to protect democracy during the 2024 presidential election cycle and begin to address the systemic problems with voting, elections, and representation that will continue to fester without meaningful reforms. It is past time Americans act to create the democracy they want future generations to inherit.
It is past time Americans act to create the democracy they want future generations to inherit.
This report provides a roadmap to help heal and strengthen American democracy. It explains some of the most pressing challenges that the 2024 U.S. elections will bring and how states, election officials, and the public must not only counter these challenges but also improve election safety, accessibility, and security. The report also looks beyond the horizon of the next election to the long-term challenges that lay at the very root of the crisis facing free and fair elections.
Policies to prepare for the challenges of the 2024 elections
- Enhance public communication campaigns to help the public understand election procedures and spread knowledge about recent changes in voting and voter registration procedures.
- Deter violence against election officials and workers by prohibiting firearms at voting locations and increasing protections against other forms of intimidation.
- Guard against efforts to subvert elections by strengthening protections for the election certification process, ensuring mail-in ballots can be processed prior to election day, and implementing strong protections for ballot drop boxes.
- Counter the spread of disinformation and misinformation by countering artificial intelligence (AI)-generated election-related content.
Policies to address systemic issues in U.S. elections
- Ensure that voters have a voice by passing federal laws to protect the right to vote and state-level voting rights acts to remove and prevent discriminatory barriers.
- Strengthen public trust in elections by creating a government webpage for Americans to easily locate accurate and up-to-date election results.
- Increase the fair representation of voters by moving toward electoral systems that provide them with more proportional representation, more choices, and encourage consensus-driven politics and policymaking.
- Empower voters’ voices on policy by protecting state ballot measure processes.
4 policies to prepare for the 2024 election cycle
The 2024 presidential election cycle is quickly approaching, with voters casting the first ballots of the election season in February. Election officials have been preparing to administer the 2024 elections since the day the 2020 elections were certified,6 but even with all of their hard work, more must be done to ensure safe, secure, and accessible elections for Americans across the country.
Despite the short window of time left ahead of the November 2024 general election, important steps can still be taken to: 1) enhance public communication campaigns and public messaging, 2) deter and counter violence, 3) guard against efforts to subvert elections, and 4) counter the spread of disinformation. Election officials and workers, lawmakers, the press, and the public will all have a critical role to play in ensuring the success of these policies over the next year.
1. Increase public communication campaigns and public messaging
Public trust in elections is vital for a healthy democracy. In order to build this trust, election officials must run robust public communication and messaging campaigns that ensure voters understand their options for registering to vote and casting a ballot, as well as set voter expectations for election results.
Navigating new restrictive and expansive voting and election-related laws
Since the 2020 elections, approximately 20 states have enacted laws restricting the right to vote, while about one-quarter of states have enacted laws expanding it.7 This means that millions of voters will be faced with greater challenges in registering to vote and casting their ballots than was the case during the last presidential election cycle, while millions of others will have additional options to register and vote. While voter education is always a key part of election season, with the deluge of changes to voting laws and practices around the country, 2024 will be a critical year for ensuring voters have all the information they need to make the best choices for themselves on how to register and cast their vote.
It is critical that both state and local election officials invest in large-scale public communication campaigns to inform voters about their options for registering and casting a ballot in 2024. In order to amplify their messaging campaigns, officials should also engage with and form partnerships with nonprofit, voting rights, and civil rights groups to effectively spread authoritative information. These campaigns should specifically focus on any significant changes to voting policies that have been enacted since the last presidential election cycle, and they should be disseminated through numerous media channels and online.
In states that will not dedicate additional resources to such voter education campaigns—particularly states that have restricted voting rights—local election officials should undertake these efforts on their own if they have not already. This is especially pressing in large and urban election jurisdictions where education campaigns could improve hundreds of thousands, even millions, of Americans’ ability to vote.
Ensuring voters know elections do not end on election night
Although the media begins reporting preliminary results on election day, those results are not final.8 The steps required to finalize results—such as ballot counting, signature verification, certification, auditing, and other necessary election administration tasks—can take days or weeks to complete.9
In 2020, many Americans who were unaware of these processes viewed the additional time needed to finalize election results as proof that the 2020 presidential election was “stolen.”10 In reality, however, it is normal for elections not to be called on election night; in fact, officials deemed the 2020 presidential election “the most secure in American history.”11To avoid such confusion about election results in the future, it is critical that both election officials and the media increase public communications about election processes and timelines. This would help bolster public confidence in future elections and prevent voters from turning to and spreading disinformation.
Throughout the upcoming year, election officials should focus on public communication campaigns that can provide the public with information about state deadlines and election processes as well as expected timelines. Above all, it will be important to help voters understand that accuracy and proper procedure, rather than expediency, is the priority. Officials should emphasize that election results following election day are not a “delay” and that every legitimate vote must be counted for democracy to work.
It will also be critical for journalists to underscore the fact that elections do not end on election night. Millions of Americans rely on news and media outlets as their primary source for information about election results.12 As such, journalists bear a tremendous ethical responsibility in helping ensure that election reporting is truthful and accurate. It is imperative that journalists shun sensationalism, rely on exemplary fact checking to avoid giving rise to misinformation, and emphasize the importance of accuracy rather than speed in their reporting over the next year.
2. Deter and counter violence
The last presidential election saw unprecedented violence and threats against election workers and officials, which have persisted over the past few years.13 Officials across the country have worked hard to increase physical safety, improve the reporting of threats, and counter violence overall. But concerns over another influx of harassment and threats against workers and officials persist.14
Protecting election officials and workers
Many election officials and workers have expressed hesitancy in the past to report threats and harassment because state and local law enforcement have not taken their claims seriously.15 However, it will be vital to report threats and harassment to ensure the scale and scope of the problem can be properly assessed and mitigated during the 2024 election cycle.
News and media outlets, as well as other public officials, will have an important role to play in accurately reporting and readily condemning instances of threats and harassment. It will also be important to ensure these outlets and public officials pay attention to local election officials, who are often more overlooked in this threat landscape and have access to fewer resources to protect themselves.
While it is unlikely that proposed federal legislation to address the issue will be enacted before the election, it is not too late for states and local governments such as counties or cities to pass laws to protect election officials and workers.16Already, since the 2020 election, 11 states have passed laws to protect election workers, while cities such as Madison, Wisconsin; Columbus, Ohio; and Akron, Ohio, have passed municipal laws.17 Ahead of the general election, state and local governments across the country should continue this work in the face of federal inaction.
Meanwhile, officials and workers will need to continue relying on federal resources provided by the FBI and the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency to respond to threats, mitigate risks to election infrastructure, and improve cybersecurity.18 More importantly, both agencies should increase and improve their communications with partners and state and local governments to ensure election officials and workers are familiar with the federal resources available to them.
Lastly, it will be vital for election officials and administrators to include awareness, response, and de-escalation training for election volunteers and workers in training materials throughout the year. This will help ensure that volunteers not only have a deeper understanding of the threat and harassment landscape but also have some familiarity with the resources available to them for dealing with any potential issues.
Protecting against firearms and other forms of intimidation in the voting process
There are growing fears among experts and officials about the possibility of violence during the 2024 election cycle, particularly regarding the presence of firearms near voting and vote-counting locations.19 These fears play out against the larger backdrop of a longer-term deregulation of firearms at the hands of courts and lawmakers, as well as a proliferation of firearm ownership and gun violence.20
Fears of violence in 2024 are mainly based on three factors: 1) violence and threats during the 2020 election cycle, 2) harassment and calls for violence in elections since the last presidential election, and 3) findings that Americans are increasingly willing to embrace violence for political aims.21 Notably, concerns over outright violence coincide with fears of increases in efforts to intimidate voters at the polls, at mail-in ballot drop boxes, and even in voters’ own homes.
Election officials have been sounding the alarm on these issues, but nearly four-fifths of states do not have a clear prohibition against guns in polling places.22 Additionally, federal law and many state laws are not robust enough to protect voters from the many forms of intimidation that experts fear will arise.
Lawmakers must focus a great deal of their attention next year on banning firearms near any voting location—such as polling places and mail-in ballot drop boxes—as well as around any vote-counting facilities. In the absence of additional federal protections, states can pass more comprehensive anti-intimidation laws, such as the existing law in Maryland.23 State attorneys general should also issue advisory opinions on the limitations of carrying firearms at voting locations and clarify that armed extremist groups, if seemingly acting as unauthorized militias, may be violating state law. In a 2020 report, the Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection at the Georgetown University Law Center identified four main categories of anti-militia laws:
(1) constitutional provisions requiring the subordination of the military to civilian authorities; (2) statutes restricting unauthorized private militia activity; (3) anti-paramilitary-activity criminal laws; and (4) prohibitions on the false assumption of the uniform or duties of a peace officer or member of the military.24
Next year, state and local officials should use the anti-militia laws in their states to recommend and enact election-related policies to prevent organized armed militia activity and respond to potential incidents.
Additionally, the U.S. Department of Justice should help deter other forms of intimidation by issuing public guidance around intimidation in reaction to developments, similar to when voters faced intimidation during sham post-election audits in 2020.25
At the very least, election officials must expressly communicate to the public existing laws regarding firearms near polling places so that voters, election workers, and volunteers know what is permissible and what is not. Throughout the year, officials should try to educate local law enforcement on the potential for election-related violence and form a preexisting relationship with their local law enforcement units in order to establish reliable contacts in case of any citations. Lastly, election officials should equip election workers and volunteers with the resources to best respond to and properly report the possible presence of firearms.
3. Guard against efforts to subvert elections
Echoes of the events on January 6 can be seen in the rise in efforts to interfere with the proper certification of election results. Efforts to subvert election certification gained national prominence after the 2020 presidential election when members of a county board of canvassers in Michigan refused to certify the results.26 This was just the beginning of attacks on the election certification process, which have since spread across the country as officials have refused to certify valid election results in counties in New Mexico, Arizona, Pennsylvania, and Nevada.27
Strengthen the election certification process
The threat of similar efforts in 2024 looms larger than ever. Any interference in the election certification process risks undermining confidence in the integrity of elections, leading to a downward spiral of mistrust, decreased participation in elections, and, ultimately, the potential demise of democracy.28 In order to strengthen American democracy, states must act quickly to protect the election certification process.
States should clarify through legislation, regulations, and official election materials that election certification is a nondiscretionary duty that is limited in scope to certifying that the statement of election results accurately reflects the numbers of the returns that were provided—nothing more.29 As part of this clarification, states should also explicitly specify in statutes the circumstances under which a delay of certification is appropriate.30
The integrity of the election certification process is just as vital to the health of American democracy as the integrity of the voting process.
Moreover, states and localities should: 1) ensure that every election worker and official involved in the certification of results attends a training course that explains their duties under the law and 2) require them to sign an oath to uphold those duties. Just like any other job, if an election worker or official fails to abide by their legal duties, they should be removed from their position. States should set in place clear policies to remove election officials who fail to certify election results for reasons that are not statutorily permitted—such as a “gut feeling”31—and ensure that officials and workers are made fully aware of these policies.
The integrity of the election certification process is just as vital to the health of American democracy as the integrity of the voting process. If additional steps are not taken to address interference with the election certification process, incidents that threaten free and fair elections will only continue.
Approve the processing and tabulation of ballots before Election Day
While it is critical for voters to understand that elections do not end on election night, it is equally vital for states to efficiently report election results. The best way they can ensure this is by enacting policies that require election workers to begin processing and tabulating mail-in ballots prior to Election Day.
Specifically, states should enact policies that require election officials to pre-process mail-in ballots—including by opening envelopes and conducting signature verification—upon receipt, or at least one week—if not two—ahead of Election Day. States should also permit election officials to scan ballots through tabulators prior to Election Day.
Together, these policies will help ensure that a significant amount of mail-in votes are accounted for in early vote totals, while also helping ease the administrative burden on election workers come Election Day. More than half of states—including Arizona, Florida, Minnesota, Ohio, and Texas—already permit the scanning and tabulation of mail-in ballots prior to Election Day.32 While concerns have been raised that the pre-tabulation of ballots could result in election results being leaked, the majority of states have shown how this policy can be implemented securely and successfully. These successes over numerous election cycles should drive policy changes across the country, and states that allow pre-processing, but not pre-tabulation, should move to also adopt the latter.
During the 2020 election, election results in many states took longer than normal to report because election workers were not allowed to begin processing ballots until the beginning of Election Day, or even until the close of polls on Election Day. Heading into the 2024 election, approximately eight states, including the battleground states of Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, will not permit even the processing of mail-in ballots prior to Election Day, while half of states will not permit pre-tabulation.33
Michigan provides a recent example of why pre-processing alone is not enough to significantly affect the speed of reporting election results or administrative burden on election officials and workers. In 2022, the state enacted a law permitting officials to begin pre-processing mail-in ballots two days prior to Election Day. However, reports soon emerged that many election officials would not partake in pre-processing, since the time and scope of activities permitted under the policy were too minimal, in their experience, to make a difference. One county clerk compared the new policy to “settling for crumbs.”34Instead, local election officials have continued to advocate for pre-tabulation as the policy that will make the most difference in their work and the reporting of timely and accurate election results.35
Processing and tabulating mail-in ballots before Election Day can also help bolster public confidence in elections by mitigating what is often referred to as a “blue shift,” by which mail-in voting results, which tend to lean more Democratic,36 are added to Election Day results, seemingly shifting the results from one party to the other. Yet by ensuring a great number of mail-in votes are accounted for in early, and even initial, election results, states can help reduce this effect and mitigate many Americans’ perceptions that election results are volatile or untrustworthy.
4. Counter the spread of disinformation
Disinformation in elections has been a critical issue since the 2016 presidential election cycle. While the threat of election-related disinformation has evolved each cycle—such as the evolution of the spread of disinformation from foreign actors to domestic actors—the threat nonetheless persists and is not likely to subside. For the 2024 election cycle, it will be critical to continue tackling the longer-term problems with disinformation as well more novel challenges, including AI-related disinformation.
Preventing the spread of AI-generated political disinformation designed to influence voters
With the recent proliferation of AI tools and improvements in the sophistication of AI-generated and AI-augmented content, experts have become increasingly worried about the harmful impacts that disinformation produced or spread by AI could have on the election cycle. When looking at the bigger picture, the 2024 election cycle will unfold in the wake of an AI boom, all while the country has been largely ineffective at curbing more traditional forms of disinformation or providing the American public with tools to discern between truths and lies online.
Prior to the AI boom of the past couple years, less sophisticated, deceptively edited videos of politicians went viral with harmful consequences.37 The potential risks of current AI technology are even more drastic, as demonstrated by a negative political advertisement in early 2023 that featured content entirely created using AI.38
Federal legislation has been proposed to mitigate the potential harms of AI-generated or -augmented content, with the aim of addressing foreseeable issues regarding both organic content and paid political advertising. However, it is unlikely that these bills will be enacted and take effect ahead of the November general election.39
Although federal legislation is unlikely to pass before next November, states such as California, Minnesota, and Washington have enacted laws to protect voters and the integrity of elections, including banning the distribution of deceptive or damaging political AI content in the lead-up to Election Day.40 Michigan has enacted a law requiring disclaimers on political advertisements created using AI-generated content.41 Lawmakers in states across the country should follow suit. In the time left before the general election, this is one of the areas where bipartisan support has been the strongest, and therefore where action can be taken.
Additional steps must also be taken by social media platforms to address AI’s potential risks, as detailed in CAP’s report “Protecting Democracy Online in 2024 and Beyond.”42 These include developing and deploying emergency mitigations responsibly, fact-checking electoral content, enhancing existing transparency reporting, and increasing the volume of election support staff.
Prioritizing authoritative and official resources and expanding social media platform responsibilities
Next year, it will be vital for voters to rely on authoritative and official resources for election information. Yet when faced with a seemingly endless number of sources and information on the internet, this can be much more difficult than it seems, as reliance on untrustworthy sources can easily lead to the spread of disinformation and mistrust of election results.
The primary source voters should use for election and voting information is the websites of chief election officials, such as secretaries of state and election directors, as well as the websites of local election officials. Additionally, federal resources such as Vote.gov and updated and timely information from the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, the U.S. Election Assistance Commission, and the U.S. Department of Justice will prove valuable to voters seeking accurate information. It should be a top priority for these departments and agencies to publish and communicate to the public accurate and updated information about any evolving election-related situation.
It will be vital for voters to rely on authoritative and official resources for election information.
Social media platforms, the news media, and some tech companies will also have great ethical responsibilities to steer voters to authoritative and official resources. Search engines should prioritize official government resources in user searches and make them easily visible and accessible, while social media platforms should affirmatively push authoritative and official resources to users. Additionally, social media platforms should expand their third-party fact checker and trusted flagger programs to include election authorities.43 This will enable election authorities to quickly escalate content that could be illegal or pose election integrity risks. While some political actors and election officials have criticized these programs, they are essential to maximize public trust and minimize bad faith attacks, and they require clear guidelines and transparency to do so.44
4 policies to address systemic issues in U.S. elections
It is critical to the long-term health of U.S. democracy that Americans move beyond the current cycle of treating election concerns by triage. Every four years, Americans focus solely on the upcoming federal election, using stop-gap measures to address urgent issues while allowing other insidious systemic harms to fester, rotting away the very foundations of democracy.
Americans must harness the same level of attention and energy given to upcoming presidential elections to address more systemic election-related issues. Looking beyond the November 2024 election, the following steps must be taken to address systemic issues in U.S. elections: 1) ensure that voters have a voice by protecting the right to vote with both federal and state-level legislation to remove and prevent discriminatory barriers; 2) ensure that voters are fairly represented by moving toward electoral systems that provide voters with more proportional representation, more choices, and that encourage consensus-driven politics; 3) strengthen public trust in elections; and 4) ensure that voters’ voices matter by protecting ballot measure processes in states with such processes. Such policies can help ensure that the government remains of the people, by the people, and for the people.
1. Ensure that all eligible Americans have a voice by protecting the right to vote
The passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was a significant achievement for the United States—enshrining democracy and racial equality as not just ideals but goals for America to strive toward. Unfortunately, the U.S. Supreme Court has gutted key provisions of the Voting Rights Act over the years, leaving it a shell of its former self.45
Rekindle the fight for federal voting rights
Now more than ever, it is crucial that Americans pick the torch back up and rekindle the fight for voting rights. At the federal level, Congress should pass federal legislation such as the Freedom to Vote Act46 and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act47 to help promote equality by removing barriers to voting in elections.
Implement strong state voting rights acts
Federal legislation is not the only path to progress; states can also step up to protect Americans from unequal barriers to voting by passing their own state-level voting rights acts (VRAs). State VRAs do not obviate the need for federal legislation, nor is federal legislation on its own sufficient. Rather, they should be viewed as complementary: Both federal and state-level voting rights legislation are needed to address unequal barriers to voting.
State VRAs are important because they can help prevent discriminatory voting practices before they go into effect, and they also provide practical tools that communities can use to fight back against discriminatory voting and election practices in state and local elections. For example, the California Voting Rights Act prompted hundreds of local jurisdictions to move away from winner-take-all, multiseat, at-large elections, which often drown out voters of color and lead to unequal representation.48This has already led to a significant increase in diverse representation in local offices within the state.49
As of November 2023, only six states have implemented a version of a state VRA: California, Connecticut, New York, Oregon, Virginia, and Washington.50 Additionally, not every state VRA adequately protects voters. Of the six states that have implemented a state VRA, only New York, Connecticut, and Virginia’s contain some form of pre-clearance protections to help prevent discriminatory voting practices before they go into effect by requiring local governments with a history of discrimination to prove that proposed changes to voting practices will not harm voters of color.51
In order to protect voters from unequal barriers, it is critical that each state adopt a strong state VRA with at least the following elements:52
- A preclearance program requiring local governments with a history of discrimination to prove that proposed changes to voting practices will not harm voters of color
- Language reducing the burden on communities of color to bring claims of vote dilution by not requiring extraneous burdens such as proving that a minority group be “geographically compact”
- Strong protections against voter intimidation and election-related deception
- A “democracy canon” that instructs courts to interpret legal ambiguities in laws in favor of protecting the right to vote
- Expansion of language assistance for voters with limited English proficiency
- A statewide database to make election and demographic data transparent and publicly accessible
2. Ensure that voters are fairly represented
America was built on the promise that its government would derive its powers from the consent of the governed.53 Unfortunately, the U.S. government is not currently living up to this promise. In a July 2023 poll conducted by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, 49 percent of respondents said that democracy in the United States was not working well.54 In addition, 53 percent of respondents said that they believe that the views of “people like them” are not represented well by the government.55 Democracy has failed if it is not adequately representing the people who comprise it.
of Americans believe U.S. democracy is not working well.
of Americans believe the views of “people like them” are not represented well by the U.S. government.
of Americans believe that what most Americans want should be highly important when creating laws and policies.
of Americans believe that what Americans want is actually being considered by lawmakers in practice.
Adopt electoral systems that encourage consensus-driven governance and provide voters with more proportional representation
Unfortunately, the current structure of electoral systems used throughout the United States inhibits the nation from living up to its promise. In the United States, most elections have three main structural components: 1) partisan primaries; 2) winner-take-all—also known as plurality or first-past-the-post—structures, under which the candidate who receives the most votes wins, even if they have less than 50 percent of the votes; and 3) single-member districts.56 Each aspect contributes to the unrepresentative nature of governments and the current era of political polarization and gridlock.
The good news is that localities and even some states are living up to their title as “laboratories of democracy” and are experimenting with new electoral systems that move away from these structures. This section discusses two such reforms: 1) open primaries paired with ranked choice voting and 2) proportional ranked choice voting, also known as “single transferable vote.”
These are, of course, not the only paths toward a democracy that lives up to its promise of fairly representing all Americans. There are a range of possible electoral reforms discussed in CAP’s previous report “It’s Time To Talk About Electoral Reform,” many of which have also seen a recent resurgence in interest.57
Open primaries and ranked choice voting: More voter choice and consensus-driven politics
In 2022, Alaska completed its first election under its new electoral system, known as “Top Four” or “Final Four.” This electoral system consists of open primaries, in which any individual regardless of political party affiliation can cast their vote for their preferred candidate in each race. Then the top four candidates move on to the general election, where they are voted on via ranked choice voting.
A recent study on the impact of this reform found that it “was both consequential and largely beneficial, promoting greater choice for voters, more accommodative campaigning, and generally more moderate outcomes than likely under the old rules.”58 The Alaska electoral reform did not favor one political party over another; it favored the voters by providing them with more choices in the primary election and a greater ability to express their preferences during the general election.59 This in turn led to a state legislature that prioritized governing and building consensus around policies instead of focusing on political grandstanding.60
Proportional ranked choice voting: Toward more equitable representation
Ranked choice voting is a powerful tool for local elections that feature multiple seats, such as in city council elections, because it helps voters receive more proportional representation. In fact, when used in multiseat elections, ranked choice voting is often called proportional ranked choice voting.61
Consider a city council that consists of four members. Under a winner-take-all, at-large election system, voters cast one vote for each seat, favoring the will of the majority. A large cohesive group of voters can easily fill all four seats with their preferred candidates, while smaller groups are left without much influence. Even a group with 49 percent of the voting-eligible population could be completely drowned out by a group with 50 percent of the voting-eligible population if the two groups preferred different candidates and the larger group voted cohesively against the preferred candidates of the smaller group.
However, if voters use ranked choice voting to elect city council members, then voters each cast one vote for all the open seats and their votes are distributed according to their ranked preferences, making each vote more equal. Through this method, a cohesive group that has 50 percent of the voting population would be able to elect their preferred candidates to roughly 50 percent of the seats, and smaller groups would have a greater voice in electing the remaining seats.
Proportional ranked choice voting has been used to great success in countries across the world,62 and U.S. localities are beginning to show renewed interest in this reform. In fact, an analysis of the first election in Eastpointe, Michigan, under proportional ranked choice voting found that the new system led candidates to appeal to historically underrepresented communities in Eastpointe, and Black voters in particular had a meaningful influence on the outcome of the election.63Additional case studies from localities in Louisiana, North Carolina, Ohio, and Texas reveal that this result is not an anomaly: Proportional ranked choice voting led to proportional or slightly higher representation for minority groups in each case.64
Ultimately, it is critical both to understand how the structure of electoral systems creates barriers to democratic representation and to move toward electoral systems that provide voters with more proportional representation, more choices, and that incentivize candidates to focus on consensus building.
3. Strengthen public faith in institutions
Due to the decentralized nature of the U.S. election system, it can be difficult for people to easily locate where to access accurate information about elections. This difficulty is exacerbated by the fact that the federal government does not have a central repository for election results that provides accurate, consistently updated information.65
In the absence of such a central repository, Americans will continue to rely heavily on sources such as the media or third-party organizations that may not provide accurate information or report results with the appropriate nuance, which can perpetuate misinformation about elections.66
Create a public central repository for election results
In order to build trust in elections and ensure voters are relying on authoritative information, the federal government should create an official election results website and phone application that provide individuals with accurate information about election results in one location. The federal government should prioritize user accessibility, providing this information in a manner consistent with how Americans have become accustomed to seeing election results. This may include using sophisticated and interactive maps instead of requiring individuals to open a nesting doll of different government webpages in hopes of finding accurate information. With more funding, the Election Assistance Commission and the General Services Administration are well suited to develop and run such applications.
4. Ensure that voters’ voices matter on policy
The same Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll discussed above also revealed that while 71 percent of respondents think that what most Americans want should be highly important when creating laws and policies, only 48 percent think that actually happens in practice.67 One route to provide voters a direct say in the electoral process and policymaking more broadly is through the ballot measure process.
Protect the ballot measure process
Ballot measures provide voters with the power to bypass partisan impediments to policy change and make decisions directly on the policies they want to see implemented. In other words, ballot measures reflect the very heart of democracy.
Ballot measures can be a key driver of progressive policy change; they have been the mechanism for restoring voting rights to previously incarcerated citizens,68 raising the minimum wage,69and even redistricting reform and increasing voting rights, as highlighted in CAP’s report “How Michigan Became a Blueprint for Strengthening Democracy.”70 In recent years, voters have generally used ballot measures to enact progressive change, so it is no surprise that those opposed to progressive policies have increased their attacks on the ballot measure process.71
A recent example of this can be seen in Ohio. In August 2023, a ballot measure proposed changing the threshold for enacting a ballot measure from 50 percent to 60 percent of voters.72 Fortunately, Ohio voters rejected the measure, as it would have made it more difficult for Ohio voters to approve a November 2023 ballot measure protecting abortion rights.73
At the same time, though, ballot measures can be used to pass regressive policies. For instance, in California, the ballot initiative process was used in 2008 to ban same-sex marriage in the infamous Proposition 8.74
Ultimately, ballot measures are designed to reflect the current will of the people, giving voters a direct voice in influencing the policies that affect them every day. It is important to protect this process. However, since ballot measures can also be used to enact policies that may be harmful, it is equally important to maintain a check and balance in the form of the judicial system to ensure that no ballot measure that discriminates against a group of people, strips away rights, or perpetuates other harms is allowed to become law.
American democracy stands at a precipice. In many ways, the 2024 presidential election will determine its future course—whether faith in America’s elections and democratic institutions will be restored or whether America will continue down a path of conspiracy theories toward violence and autocracy.
In many ways, the 2024 presidential election will determine the course of American democracy.
In the months before the 2024 election, states, election officials, and the public must take immediate action to protect the election by enhancing public communication campaigns, deterring violence by furthering protections for election officials and workers, guarding against efforts to subvert elections, and countering the spread of disinformation. At the same time, the problems America is facing in 2024 are symptoms of larger, systemic issues with the U.S. election system. It is not enough to only focus on what lies immediately ahead. Americans must also tackle longer-term issues to protect the health of their democracy. This includes ensuring that voters have a voice by protecting the right to vote, strengthening public trust in elections, increasing the fair representation of voters, and empowering voters’ voices on policy.
The policies discussed in this report can help bring democracy back from the brink, but only if Americans step up to meet these challenges.