Priorities USA Will Pour $20 Million Into Voting Rights Efforts
Priorities USA, one of the largest liberal super PACs, is hoping to counteract Republican-driven voting restrictions through both digital ad campaigns and legal efforts.,
Priorities USA, one of the biggest Democratic super PACs, plans to announce on Tuesday that it will pump $20 million into voting rights initiatives ahead of the 2022 election cycle, aiming to combat Republican-led election laws with digital ads and organizing as well as in the courts.
The digital effort will include a series of extensive voter information campaigns, going beyond a more traditional approach that would consist solely of persuasion ads. The group’s overall goal is to help people navigate a new balloting landscape created by the many new restrictions passed by Republicans in at least 16 states. The campaigns will also provide voting tools like text message reminders to register to vote or request an absentee ballot.
“The purpose of this program is to really center the voters who we know are particularly targeted by the Republicans’ suppression efforts,” said Danielle Butterfield, the executive director of Priorities USA. “Those are voters of color, Black and Latino voters specifically, and we plan to center them both in our creative and our targeting to make sure that they are aware of how empowering voting is.”
The other significant investment will be on the legal front, where the group has served as one of the leading litigators in voting lawsuits across the country. Priorities USA joined lawsuits in 10 states during the 2020 election and its aftermath, squaring off against legal attempts by Donald J. Trump’s campaign to overturn the election results and pushing back on new voting laws. Though Priorities has not sued any state this year in response to new voting restrictions, group officials said that more legal efforts would be coming soon.
The initial $20 million investment from Priorities comes as Democrats across the country are struggling to fight back against the Republican push to restrict voting. Opposition from major corporations, faith groups, civil rights groups and celebrities has done little to stymie new voting laws in key states like Georgia, Florida, Iowa and Arizona. Even a dramatic late-night walkout by Democrats in Texas, which effectively killed a Republican voting bill in the state, is likely to be only a temporary victory, with the governor pledging to enact new voting legislation through a special session of the Legislature.
The Supreme Court is also poised to deliver a ruling in the coming days on the Voting Rights Act, potentially further weakening its protections against voting restrictions. And Democrats in Washington appear to be on the brink of a defeat of their expansive federal voting bill, the For the People Act, with Republicans united in opposition and moderate Democrats unwilling to kill the filibuster to pass the legislation.
Of course, the new laws will continue to make it harder for some people to vote, and voter education and awareness efforts can go only so far. Priorities USA said it would continue to explore other avenues to help people vote.
“Most voting rights advocates and people that do this work would say that we don’t need to try to narrow it down to just one area of work,” said Aneesa S. McMillan, a deputy executive director at Priorities USA who oversees voting rights efforts. “We need to be thinking of a multipronged approach.”
Organizing campaigns are becoming an increasingly popular tool for Democrats to try to counteract new voting laws. This month, the Texas Democratic Party announced the largest voter registration push in its history, aiming to register two million new voters and investing about $14 million in the effort.
In addition to informing voters, an important component of the digital effort by Priorities USA will be fighting voting disinformation.
After former President Donald J. Trump returned in recent months to making false claims that the 2020 election was stolen from him, Republican lawmakers in many states have marched ahead to pass laws making it harder to vote and change how elections are run, frustrating Democrats and even some election officials in their own party.
- A Key Topic: The rules and procedures of elections have become central issues in American politics. As of May 14, lawmakers had passed 22 new laws in 14 states to make the process of voting more difficult, according to the Brennan Center for Justice, a research institute.
- The Basic Measures: The restrictions vary by state but can include limiting the use of ballot drop boxes, adding identification requirements for voters requesting absentee ballots, and doing away with local laws that allow automatic registration for absentee voting.
- More Extreme Measures: Some measures go beyond altering how one votes, including tweaking Electoral College and judicial election rules, clamping down on citizen-led ballot initiatives, and outlawing private donations that provide resources for administering elections.
- Pushback: This Republican effort has led Democrats in Congress to find a way to pass federal voting laws. A sweeping voting rights bill passed the House in March, but faces difficult obstacles in the Senate, including from Joe Manchin III, Democrat of West Virginia. Republicans have remained united against the proposal and even if the bill became law, it would most likely face steep legal challenges.
- Florida: Measures here include limiting the use of drop boxes, adding more identification requirements for absentee ballots, requiring voters to request an absentee ballot for each election, limiting who could collect and drop off ballots, and further empowering partisan observers during the ballot-counting process.
- Texas: Texas Democrats successfully blocked the state’s expansive voting bill, known as S.B. 7, in a late-night walkout and are starting a major statewide registration program focused on racially diverse communities. But Republicans in the state have pledged to return in a special session and pass a similar voting bill. S.B. 7 included new restrictions on absentee voting; granted broad new autonomy and authority to partisan poll watchers; escalated punishments for mistakes or offenses by election officials; and banned both drive-through voting and 24-hour voting.
- Other States: Arizona’s Republican-controlled Legislature passed a bill that would limit the distribution of mail ballots. The bill, which includes removing voters from the state’s Permanent Early Voting List if they do not cast a ballot at least once every two years, may be only the first in a series of voting restrictions to be enacted there. Georgia Republicans in March enacted far-reaching new voting laws that limit ballot drop-boxes and make the distribution of water within certain boundaries of a polling station a misdemeanor. And Iowa has imposed new limits, including reducing the period for early voting and in-person voting hours on Election Day.
“We want to make sure that we are doing our part to clarify and break through all the misinformation and disinformation, which is how voter suppression thrives,” Ms. McMillan said.
Officials at Priorities USA said that they expected the group’s initial $20 million investment to grow substantially, but that setting aside the current budget now was crucial to the effort.
“We’re starting this conversation early because we want to make sure we raise the alarm bells early about how much work needs to be done to respond to these Republican efforts,” Ms. Butterfield said.