June 27, 2023

Celebrating Pride with Responsive Government

Pride month is the time for us to remember the 1969 Stonewall Uprising and to celebrate members of the LGBTQ+ community – and it can also be seen as a time to reflect on the progress towards a government that is responsive to everyone. The dignity and basic human rights that were so long denied the LGBTQ+ community by government institutions were slowly granted only in response to growing public pressure, culminating in the Supreme Court’s landmark Obergefell decision, which outlawed bans on same sex marriage throughout the country.

Despite this progress, it is clear that much more work remains to be done in shaping a government that is responsive to everyone it represents, especially towards those in the LGBTQ+ community. That means stepping beyond performative allyship and moving government to take real, lasting action. The bottom line is, throughout the year, not just during the month of June, government institutions have the power to be responsive in substantive and lasting ways.

While corporations can perform, governments can protect.

As we in the policy community help government deliver services, we have to remember that we’re designing services for everyone. This includes — maybe most importantly — people for whom government interactions have not always been positive. So in the spirit of supporting substantive policies that expand progress we’ve made and push government institutions to be more responsive to those they represent, we at the Institute for Responsive Government put together some suggestions.

Secure Automatic Voter Registration, or SAVR, is a model of automatic voter registration that shifts the burden of registration off of the individual and onto the state agency. In short, it fully automates the registration system, verifying eligibility and saving the state money on registrations. It also facilitates secure information sharing between necessary state agencies. This means that trans people who have changed their names need not repeat the potentially traumatic process of explaining this fact to agency employees, because a single update is shared across the system — both their driver’s license and their voter registration would be updated.

This model of automatic voter registration applies to both new registrants and existing voters. Those who are already in the system have their information, including name changes, updated automatically whenever they interact with a participating state agency. That means when you go update your address for your car’s registration, the information on the voter file is updated as well. LGBTQ+ people are more likely to be renters, and thus move more frequently. As such, the benefits granted from automatic information updates will ensure no number of address changes will interfere with their freedom to vote.

The same applies when moving to a new state entirely. Research shows that ⅔ of LGBTQ+ people live in a different state from where they went to high school. Automatic voter registration and information updates make for a more efficient path to political participation for new residents, and make the government more responsive in doing so.

Voting by mail received a lot of attention during and after the 2020 election. This was due both to the necessity of the practice brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic, and the subsequent proliferation of false information surrounding it. The truth is that absentee voting dates back to the colonial era, some states have had all-mail elections for decades, and voting from home is a secure and efficient way to cast a ballot.

Voting by mail provides LGBTQ+ individuals with a safe option for participation in our elections. In a perfect world, everyone who is eligible would be able to cast their ballot free from fear of harm or harassment. But sadly, that world is not the one we inhabit. The Human Rights Campaign found a sickening rise in fatal violence against gender non-conforming people over the past several years. While the long-term solution is a culture where each of us is respected and protected regardless of who we are or whom we love, until we reach that goal, voting by mail is a safe alternative for many.

Smart voter-ID policies would provide flexibility for voter information changes. Particularly when it comes to updating names and addresses, designing policies to identify voters that accommodate these commonplace chances will help protect the freedom to vote for LGBTQ+ individuals, who as we noted above are more likely to move often, or change their name on file.

Restoration of rights following incarceration is an important protection for returning citizens who have historically been dissuaded from participating in elections. Given that LGBTQ+ individuals are incarcerated at triple the rate of the total population, establishing policies for rights restoration will have a significant impact on returning LGBTQ+ citizens who deserve their constitutional freedom to vote.

Expanding automatic voter registration services to Medicaid agencies will extend the benefits of this policy to historically overlooked communities, particularly those experiencing poverty who qualify for Medicaid assistance. LGBTQ+ individuals are overrepresented in this category, and as such expanding the practice will have a profound effect on this group’s ability to participate in our elections.

This is, of course, not an exhaustive list of ways in which government institutions can make substantive changes that increase responsiveness as it relates to LGBTQ+ voters. However, what these policies share is an intersection of LGBTQ+ issues, and the ability of these communities to hold the government accountable – to make it responsive. And while there will be more to do for many years to come, these policies will continue to bring us down the path of progress that so many walked before us.