August 04, 2014
"It's impossible to protect our environment if we don't defend our democracy." Stephanie Herron, volunteer and outreach coordinator for Sierra Club Delaware, says those words confidently after a fight for voting rights that's lasted for more than a year now in the state.
Sierra Club Delaware is working with a broad state coalition to pass same-day voter registration legislation, engaging thousands of residents in a movement crucial to participatory democracy.
"It shouldn't be hard to participate in the system," says Courtney Hight, director of the Sierra Club's Democracy Program. "Same-day voter registration is one way of removing a barrier that often affects young people and communities of color. This makes it easier to vote -- we thought Delaware's legislation on this issue was a good way to be proactive and encourage participation in voting."
The Sierra Club is a member of the Democracy Initiative, a coalition of groups that seeks to restore the core principal of political equality. Sierra Club executive director Michael Brune has written extensively on the importance of the Sierra Club and a coalition of groups in building "a movement to halt the corrupting influence of corporate money in politics, prevent the systemic manipulation and suppression of voters, and address other obstacles to significant reform."
Herron says the Delaware chapter first started engaging on same day voter registration (SDR) in early 2013 during the state's legislative session. The movement picked up momentum in the state in early 2014, when more and more diverse groups -- from unions to local community groups -- joined the coalition and voting rights in Delaware started getting more and more attention. The diverse coalition members were able to work their different legislative contacts and respective members to help bring the bill to a vote in the state House of Representatives--no easy feat as we saw in 2013 when the bill languished for almost a year without a floor vote.
The coalition fought bad amendments to the bill - and growing opposition from the Delaware Republican Party, who made fighting SDR a top priority in 2014. Herron says the opposition was well-funded and powerful, but that didn't stop thousands from contacting their state legislators to pass same-day voter registration.
In the weeks leading up to the final vote in the state senate, Sierra Club Delaware sent out action alerts to more than 5,000 members and generated more than 100 calls to state senators. Delaware Sierrans also joined other coalition members at a June 17 rally calling on Senators to bring SDR to a vote.
In the end, with time running out before the June 30th close of session, unfortunately the bill never made it to a floor vote in the Senate. Herron says she and the coalition were disappointed but hope the push for same-day voter registration in the next session will be successful.
"The Sierra Club offered a unique voice in the coalition - we were the only environmental group," she says. "We have to continue pushing these voting rights and good government issues. If we continue to let undemocratic things happen, we won't be able to bring about meaningful change."
The Sierra Club's Hight echoed that sentiment. "If you're going to change the country, you have to find ways to increase participation and make it less complicated to vote."
-- Heather Moyer, Sierra Club