Defending Nonpartisan Civic Engagement Groups Strengthens the Freedom to Vote

A woman stands behind a table with voting rights signage and speaks to two other women standing in front of her
West Point, Georgia, USA. 17th July, 2021. Diana Cofield, a volunteer from The People's Agenda in Georgia, shares information about Georgia's revised voting laws to visitors at a family festival in rural Georgia. The organization seeks to increase voter registration in low-turnout counties as the 2022 midterm elections approach. Photo by Robin Rayne/ZUMA Press Wire

Nonpartisan civic engagement groups form the bedrock of our democracy.  

These groups — composed of civic-minded, democracy-loving, everyday Americans — do the hard work of fighting to ensure that every American can access the fundamental freedom to vote.  

Their efforts have a long and storied history. In fact, as long as America has had representative democracy, civic-minded folks have worked tirelessly to help their neighbors access it — registering people to vote, holding voter education events, promoting civic engagement and bringing together communities.  

But recently, their efforts have come under attack. In state after state, self-interested politicians are pushing restrictive new laws, often tucked away in larger anti-voter bills, that would completely undermine or even criminalize the activities of nonpartisan civic engagement groups.  

The work of nonpartisan civic engagement groups is the core work of building a better democracy — and when states limit the efforts of these groups, they also attack their First Amendment rights to participate in the political process.   

Not only do these laws represent a serious attack on free speech and association, but they would also have clear negative effects on Black and brown voters, low-income voters, voters with disabilities and young voters, who often rely on nonpartisan assistance from these civic engagement groups to exercise their freedom to vote. 

To this point, according to an independent analysis, Floridians of color are five times more likely to register to vote through nonpartisan third-party civic engagement organizations than white Floridians — yet Florida’s recently enacted SB 7050 imposes unprecedented civil and criminal penalties on groups that might violate one of many extreme restrictions while collecting and submitting voter registration forms. 

That is anti-democratic and wrong.  

Our democracy is strongest when every voter can make their voice heard. We should celebrate, not punish, the civic-minded organizations and volunteers who help Americans vote.  

Campaign Legal Center (CLC) is proud to be fighting alongside other pro-democracy groups on multiple fronts to protect the important work that nonpartisan civic engagement groups engage in every day. 

In Florida, within minutes of SB 7050 being enacted, CLC filed a lawsuit on behalf of the League of Women Voters of Florida (LWVFL) to block provisions that specifically target civic engagement groups like LWVFL who do the critical work of registering voters across the state. 

In 2021, Georgia lawmakers passed an omnibus elections law, SB 202, that severely limits the ability of nonpartisan civic engagement groups to provide voters with assistance requesting, obtaining and submitting absentee ballot applications.  

Soon after, CLC filed suit on behalf of Voter Participation Center (VPC) who, along with other nonpartisan civic engagement groups, assisted hundreds of thousands of Georgians, including many Black and brown Georgians, in requesting absentee ballots by mail during the 2020 and 2021 elections. 

CLC filed a similar suit against an overbearing omnibus election law on behalf of VPC in Kansas — and in May 2023, a federal court sided with VPC to permanently block the enforcement of the provisions that prohibited out-of-state entities from mailing advance mail ballot applications to any voter in the state. 

And in Missouri, CLC and other pro-democracy groups filed suit on behalf of the League of Women Voters of Missouri and the Missouri NAACP against an election law that drastically restricted, directly targeted and even criminalized the activities of nonpartisan civic engagement groups. In November 2022, a Missouri judge blocked enforcement of the law — a win for Missouri voters and for democracy. 

We fight because a democracy without the indispensable efforts of nonpartisan civic engagement groups is hardly a democracy at all. Attacks on these groups — who are merely exercising their sacred freedom of political speech — are attempts to slowly unravel the threads binding together American civic life.  

We won’t stand for that.  

If American democracy is to achieve its ideals — of vibrancy, inclusivity and effectiveness — the work of nonpartisan civic engagement groups must be protected.

Jonathan is CLC's Director, Voting Advocacy and Partnerships.