There is much to be celebrated in the almost 250 years of American democracy, but perhaps nothing more so than the continual drive among its citizens for a more perfect union. The task of building and enhancing an elections system to represent and serve as diverse a citizenry as the United States is both daunting and essential.
Hewlett’s Trustworthy Elections strategy makes grants to ensure that U.S. elections are secure, accessible, and worthy of the public’s trust. We support professionally managed elections in which officials are equipped to communicate effectively with the public, every eligible voter regardless of race, political ideology, or geography can readily access trusted election information and easily cast a ballot, and in which all citizens both believe and abide by the results of the election as free and fair.
Specifically, grants in this portfolio support organizations that try to boost the public’s trust in elections in at least one of three ways: (1) countering disinformation’s impact on elections; (2) strengthening public funding of elections and nonpartisan election administration; and (3) increasing access to voting for every eligible voter, including those who have historically been marginalized in our political system.
Because this strategy centers on voters, it is designed to build on principles of trust. And while some aspects of trust will always remain intrinsic to human behavior, others shift with our social and political contexts over time. That is why we have designed the strategy to teach us over time. As opportunities in the electoral landscape change, and as we learn more about how to help all eligible voters participate in elections, we expect the strategy to shift in parts.
Goals + Outcomes
Our Trustworthy Elections strategy aims to ensure that the United States has a fully funded and professionally managed elections system in which every eligible voter can easily and securely vote and in which citizens, including those whose candidate or party loses, trust in and abide by the results.
Progress toward this goal would mean:
Government policymakers at the state and federal level enact more effective solutions to begin to counter the wide range of impacts of disinformation on elections.
There is an increase in stable, flexible government funding for state and local elections officials to better plan for and meet local needs.
States adopt policies and practices that bolster voter trust in the result, including among voters whose preferred candidate or party lost.
All eligible voters, including those from historically disenfranchised communities, can readily and securely cast a ballot. As part of an intentional learning strategy, the U.S. Democracy Program will spend the next three years identifying promising and feasible pathways that best support this effort.
You cannot build trust in a failing system, and the U.S. elections system is in crisis.
The November 2020 elections, held during a pandemic, crystallized the central challenges and opportunities of the U.S. electoral system. The system was tested to the point of near failure but ultimately held up thanks to the efforts of a wide range of elections administration professionals, civil society organizations, lawmakers, activists, and others. Hewlett supports efforts like these, building in part on what was learned in 2020, through its three grantmaking sub-strategies for trustworthy elections.
Countering disinformation’s impact on elections: Disinformation is designed and packaged to discourage people from voting, and to spread myths, chaos, and even violence during election season. We fund applied research and effective tools and systems to respond to these threats. We also connect disinformation civil society organizations with elections officials, journalists, and technology platforms to share their learning.
Supporting effective election administration: Elections administration personnel, having just pulled the metaphorical rabbit out of a hat in 2020, are under more pressure than ever before. They face a growing range of digital and real-life security threats, constant change in election laws and are increasingly expected to debunk disinformation and defend their systems and themselves to a highly polarized public. That’s why we support election reforms that provide sustained funding and a seat at the decisionmaking table for electoral officials.
Increasing citizens’ access to voting: People will not trust a system if they feel it is not designed to include or represent them, and voters across the political spectrum clearly feel that way now. There are many barriers to participation in the electoral system that make voting difficult. Some barriers are based on discrimination by race and other factors, and other barriers are related to structural issues like underfunding and lack of capacity. Our grantmaking in this arena aims to reduce obstacles to voting with the premise that voting should be easy and secure for all eligible voters, and access should be as widespread as possible.