Democracy Docket’s Spotlight Roundup: Voices From 2021

A collage featuring a female activist shouting into megaphone, a redistricting map, the U.S. Capitol sinking in quickstand with a warning sign that says "DANGER Quicksand", a ballot, and a protest sign that says "WE DEMAND VOTING RIGHTS NOW!"

This year, Democracy Docket published 48 Spotlights on a range of issues facing voters written by activists, elected officials, experts and more. Today, we take a look back on the voices we heard from in 2021.

Elected officials provided their expertise on the policies they’re tackling in Congress, state government and across the country.

In 2021, we saw Republican elected officials take part in subverting election results, peddle conspiracy theories and enact voter suppression laws. In contrast, Democrats fought for voting rights, and several of them wrote about the issues they specialize in.

We heard from Oregon Governor Kate Brown and two secretaries of state — Sec. Jena Griswold of Colorado and Sec. Shenna Bellows of Maine.  We heard from the current and former chairs of the Democratic National Committee and the mayor of Washington, D.C. made the case for D.C. statehood.

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) wrote about polling place wait times, Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.) reflected on the 2020 election in his home state and Sen. Alex Padilla (D-Calif.) advocated for the implementation of automatic voter registration. Rep. Mondaire Jones (D-N.Y.) expressed the urgency of federal action on voting rights: “None of this will be easy. But I often remind myself of what John Lewis said as he cast his vote for the For the People Act last Congress. ‘If not us, then who? If not now, then when? The time has come.’ So, it’s up to us. The moment is now. The time has come.” 

But, as we all know, the action doesn’t just happen in Congress and state legislatures. Understanding the judicial branch and its role in the fight for democracy is crucial. Take, for example, these two pieces: 

Our Spotlight series uplifted voices who highlighted crucial, state-specific updates.

Different organizations are working incessantly across the country to fight for fair representation. In 2021, activists reported on state-specific policies in Georgia, Montana, New Hampshire and New York.

Additionally, lawmakers brought attention to the developments in their home states, whether positive or negative. Virginia State Sen. Jennifer McClellan and Del. Cia Price wrote about the landmark Virginia Voting Rights Act, which they spearheaded. Speaker of the Nevada State Assembly Jason Frierson chronicled how Nevada successfully expanded voter access in the face of a public health crisis.

In contrast to Virginia and Nevada, elected officials in Texas raised the alarms over the deterioration of voting rights in their state. U.S. House Rep. Colin Allred (D-Texas) urged the federal government to step up and protect democracy, while Texas House Rep. Julie Johnson and Texas County Judge Lina Hidalgo described the constant uphill battle for Democratic elected officials working tirelessly in the Lone Star State. 

Democracy isn’t just about voting rights — our guest writers covered a range of topics in the fight for fair representation.

We covered other crucial topics in democracy — the growing electorate and political engagement of Asian Americans and the necessity for more robust LGBTQ+ representation across the country. The discussion on voting rights is also not complete without considering the disenfranchisement of millions on the basis of felony convictions, and there are hundreds of thousands more Americans who are in jail awaiting trial or held for minor crimes who retain the right to vote but face barriers to accessing the ballot.

In 2021, following the release of new census data, legislatures and commissions across the country began to draw new district boundaries.

As all 50 states face the once-in-a-decade redistricting process, experts and activists wrote about the fight for fair maps, including:

Now, here are some powerful words that stuck with us this year.

We ended last year with a poignant piece by voting rights activist Stacey Abrams, who recently announced a second run for Georgia governor.

“In 2002, Republicans began their march to hegemony with their win of the Governor’s office. Their opponent was a fractured, under-funded Democratic party grappling with how to define its very nature. It was Georgia’s grassroots organizers — particularly black community leaders — who started to rebuild the party… When I ran for governor in 2018, we centered our campaign on communities of color and the marginalized, built a massive voter protection apparatus and raised more money than any campaign had in the state before.”

 —  “How Georgia Went Blue” 

Artist and activist John Legend spoke about the importance of universal suffrage.

“People in prison have something to say and they have a unique perspective that all of us need to hear. When we deny people in prison the right to vote, we are essentially saying: ‘Your voice doesn’t matter. We don’t need to hear from you. You don’t have anything to contribute.’”

 — “Working Toward Full Suffrage” 

Secretary Hillary Clinton wrote about how the fight for voting rights has long been — and continues to be — the defining struggle of our nation. 

“When the people make their voices heard in an election, we should respect the results. These aren’t partisan statements; they’re attributes of a functioning democracy. Now is the time for anyone who cares about ours to stand up and fight for it using absolutely every tool in our toolbox: legislation, marching and protesting, speaking up, supporting people and groups advocating for a democracy that reflects the diversity of this country, and, yes, showing up to the polls at every election, not just the presidential ones.”  

 —“The Fight for Voting Rights Is The Fight For Our Democracy” 

Finally, we’d like to recognize a few of our most consistent and reliable contributors: Nicholas Stephanopoulos, a professor at Harvard Law School and an expert on election law and constitutional law, and Tiffany Muller, President of End Citizens United and Let America Vote, each wrote three Spotlights for Democracy Docket during 2021. Alex Ault, All Voting is Local’s Policy Consultant, contributed two Spotlight articles, as well as three Data Dives.

There are so many Spotlights, but so little time to highlight them all — you can find the complete list of guest contributions here. 

We’re gearing up to bring you even more Spotlights in the new year, and we can’t wait to share new insights and perspectives with you. Stay tuned!