Southern Poverty Law Center commits $100M through 2030 to boost Deep South voter turnout
Image via AP.

Voting line AP
‘We are looking to finish our unfinished democracy.'

A Southern Poverty Law Center program launched last year in Florida and other Deep South states ahead of the 2020 election will continue with a sizable funding infusion over the next decade to increase voter registration, voter turnout and civic awareness.

The SPLC announced Monday a $100 million reinvestment through 2030 from its endowment into its Vote Your Voice program, a collaborative partnership with the philanthropic nonprofit Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta.

The reinvestment represents more than a threefold funding increase for the program, which began with a $30 million pledge in 2020 for nonpartisan voter outreach, democracy advocacy and civic engagement in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana and Mississippi.

Vote Your Voice began with 12 original grantees and has since spread to funding 55 organizations. Efforts centered particularly on communities of color whose residents “would most benefit from a true inclusive democracy in the South,” SPLC President and CEO Margaret Huang said in a statement.

Voter engagement efforts center on two key groups: low-propensity voters who are members of the new American majority — skewing non-White and under-50 — and voters outside major metropolitan areas who were overlooked in prior voter engagement efforts.

“(To) ensure a government exists that is truly ‘by the people, and for the people,” we must expand our efforts to push against the anti-democratic statements and actions of many state and local officials in the Deep South,” Huang said, adding that voters’ rights in underrepresented, underprivileged areas “have been violated for too long.”

Voter turnout reached record numbers last year, according to the Pew Research Center, which found nearly two-thirds of eligible U.S. voters — roughly 158.4 million — cast ballots for President through Nov. 3, 2020.

“Direct voter engagement like the kind by Vote Your Voice partner organizations has consistently proven to be one of the most effective ways to increase voter participation and education on fundamental rights in the United States,” an SPLC press note said, noting voting turnout upticks among voters of color and among those under 30.

But with voter suppression laws sprouting up in 19 states — which between Jan. 1 and Sept. 27 enacted 33 bills making it harder to for Americans to vote, according to the Brennan Center for Justice — more needs to be done, said Frank Fernandez, president and CEO of the Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta.

“To paraphrase (American poet) Amanda Gorman, ‘we are looking to finish our unfinished democracy,’ and building an informed and engaged voting population is critical for ensuring a more just and equitable society,” Fernandez said.

In May, Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis signed Senate Bill 90, which among other provisions eliminated mobile ballot drop-off vans, criminalized volunteers offering water and snacks to voters waiting in line, placed additional restrictions on voting by mail and imposed surveillance requirements on ballot drop boxes.

Carrie Boyd, Florida policy counsel for the SPLC Action Fund, called the bill’s signing “equal parts embarrassing, grotesque, and disastrous for Florida’s democracy.”

Two months earlier, Georgia’s Republican-run state Legislature passed an election law limiting absentee voting, which 1.3 million Georgians used to vote in November.

Similar legislation has passed in Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona, Idaho and Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Montana, Nevada, New York, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, Utah, Wyoming.

In June, the SPLC and Fair Elections Center filed a lawsuit challenging the Florida law, which it said compounds the state’s already “onerous third-party voting registration laws in the country.”

The suit is now in the motion-to-dismiss phase. Antitrust lawyer Adam Sieff of Davis Wright Tremaine, one of a handful of lawyers partnering with SPLC on the case, called it “a full-court press” concerning “a whole range of restrictions, any one of which could be its own lawsuit.”

Sieff told Law 360 in a Monday interview he expects “in the years to come” there is “going to be a lot more of this, and we’re going to need all hands on deck.”

In a press note Monday, SPLC said Vote Your Voice grants will be administered through the Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta and will:

— Establish year-round civic engagement activities updating communities on important state and local policy matters, and how they can better engage lawmakers.
— Expand the fundraising base of local groups through philanthropy networks to maximize reach.
— Support efforts to train and help launch “a new generation of political leaders and leading partner organizations in the south.”
— Build voter engagement to ensure a fairer 2030 redistricting process and outcomes.
— Address future problems with to-be-developed tactics and tools that build capacity and “trailblaze in work vital to democracy.”

“We are excited about this partnership because the strength of this financial commitment and SPLC’s advocacy helps us recognize that voter engagement reaches far beyond election cycles,” Fernandez said. “It requires systemic changes to ensure that everyone who wants to is able to participate in our democracy. It is important that we strengthen organizations that lift up the voices within our electorate that may have felt left out of the process in years past.”

Jesse Scheckner

Jesse Scheckner has covered South Florida with a focus on Miami-Dade County since 2012. His work has been recognized by the Hearst Foundation, Society of Professional Journalists, Florida Society of News Editors, Florida MMA Awards and Miami New Times. Email him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @JesseScheckner.


  • Alex

    December 6, 2021 at 3:25 pm

    How to know who’s a good organization vs a bad one?

    If the right absolutely hates them, they’re awesome.

  • PeterH

    December 6, 2021 at 7:39 pm

    It’s time to contribute to SPLC!

Comments are closed.


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