Joyce Program Democracy

American democracy is built on the values of liberty, equality, and justice. 

However, many forces threaten it, including the corrosive influence of money in politics, a politicized judicial branch, districts that discourage electoral competition, and policies designed to make voting more difficult. At the Joyce Foundation, we envision a strong and inclusive democracy in which citizens are informed and participate, elected officials are accountable to their constituents, and public policies are truly for the common good.

The Joyce Foundation invests its resources to help achieve a strong and inclusive democracy in the Great Lakes region through reforms at the state and local level. To accomplish this, we focus on five areas: campaign finance, fair courts, election administration, voting rights, and electoral systems. Within those areas we help organizations and coalitions contribute to the development and promotion of broad, multi-issue political reform agendas, and engage in activities necessary for effective advocacy, such as policy research and development, participation in official proceedings and communications. We encourage our grantee partners to work collaboratively with other reform groups, academics and policy makers to advance shared goals within their states and across the region. Click here to learn more about our program's history.

Get updates on our work in Democracy and other programs

Campaign Finance

Too often, well-funded special interests have more access to, and influence with, decision-makers than ordinary citizens and the groups that represent them. Factors that contribute to this include jurisprudence that equates money with free speech, lack of transparency in campaign contributions, and an overreliance on wealthy donors to fuel campaigns.

Goal

The Joyce Foundation supports organizations seeking to balance political influence through a variety of campaign finance reforms, including, but not limited to, publicly financed campaigns.

Objectives

Support strong state-level advocacy ecosystems, including base-building groups, policy think tanks/academics, legal advocates, and capacity builders that promote broad-based democracy reforms.

Broaden the movement for political reform to include people of color, environmentalists, young people, and conservatives.

Invest in legal advocacy and research to change jurisprudence on campaign finance law.

Electoral Systems

The electoral systems used in the United States often do not encourage accountability of elected officials to their constituents. At the Congressional and state legislative levels, legislators draw lines to create unfair advantages for themselves and their parties. Further, the single-member, winner-take-all district system regularly distorts the intent of the electorate.

Goal

The Joyce Foundation supports a broad range of reforms to state and local electoral systems including redistricting commissions, ranked choice voting, and cumulative voting.

Objectives

Support strong state-level advocacy ecosystems, including base-building groups, policy think tanks/academics, legal advocates, and capacity builders that promote broad-based democracy reforms.

Broaden the movement for political reform to include people of color, environmentalists, young people, and conservatives.

Engage election administrators in developing and implementing changes to policies and practices to modernize the election administration system.

Voting Rights

Over the course of our nation’s history, we have made progress towards fulfilling the promise that all American citizens can and should participate in civic life free from discrimination. Though efforts to undermine voting rights are rarely overt, the impacts on communities of color can be dramatic. This includes overly restrictive voter identification requirements, barriers to enfranchisement for those with prior felony convictions, and at-large voting systems that prevent equitable representation.

Goal

The Joyce Foundation supports efforts to ensure honest elections that are open to all citizens who are eligible and that do not dilute the voting strength for historically disenfranchised communities.

Objectives

Support strong state-level advocacy ecosystems, including base-building groups, policy think tanks/academics, legal advocates, and capacity builders that promote broad-based democracy reforms. 

Invest in research and litigation support to break down barriers to equitable representation, particularly at the local levels of government.

Fair Courts

The election of state judges has become increasingly partisan and expensive, raising concerns about a fair and impartial judiciary. Nine out of 10 state judges are elected in the United States, but low voter turnout – sometimes barely above 10 percent – can give undue influence to well-financed and powerful interest groups. The Joyce Foundation supports efforts to keep courts fair and to ensure state judges serve the public’s interest.

Goal

The Democracy Program prioritizes reforms that help insulate the judicial branch for political pressure including, but not limited to, selection processes that eliminate contested elections.

Objectives

Support strong state-level advocacy ecosystems, including base-building groups, policy think tanks/academics, legal advocates, and capacity builders that promote broad-based democracy reforms.

Broaden the movement for political reform to include people of color, environmentalists, young people, and conservatives.

Engage the legal community to develop policy solutions and provide leadership in reform efforts to judicial selection.

Election Administration

A modern and efficient election administration system is necessary for the legitimacy of representative democracy. As a reaction to the debacle in Florida during the 2000 Presidential Election, Congress passed the Help America Vote Act, which ushered in a new era in election administration, particularly as it related to voting technology. More than a decade later, these systems have changed little to keep up with the times. Long lines, antiquated machines, and paper-based voter registration systems are still common. The Democracy Program invests in efforts to ensure that the process of election administration is free, fair, and accessible for all eligible voters.

Goal

The Joyce Foundation invests in reforms that improve the efficiency and increases trust in the election administration system including online voter registration, same-day voter registration, and the adoption of new technology.

Objectives

Support strong state-level advocacy ecosystems, including base-building groups, policy think tanks/academics, legal advocates, and capacity builders that promote broad-based democracy reforms.

Broaden the movement for political reform to include people of color, environmentalists, young people, and conservatives.

 Engage election administrators in developing and implementing changes to policies and practices to modernize the election administration system.

What We Fund

We focus on initiatives that make an impact on the Great Lakes region.

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How To Apply

Learn about our submission process for applying for a grant.

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Our Research & Reports

Explore our research and reports on Democracy. 

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