What do voting rights have to do with LGBTQ equality?

Movement Advancement Project


Earlier this month, MAP introduced the latest initiative in our suite of data and policy tools: the Democracy Maps. These maps track more than 40 laws and policies around the country related to voting and elections. This new project provides both a Democracy Tally rating and detailed Democracy Profile for each state, making it easy to see the states that are ensuring democracy thrives and the states that are falling short.

Similar to our Equality Maps, which provide a comprehensive look at the patchwork of state laws and policies impacting LGBTQ people across the country, the Democracy Maps offer a roadmap to understand how states vary in terms of election policies, and what drives those differences. Like the Equality Maps, the Democracy Maps and state profiles will be updated in real time as states enact new policies.

Voting rights and a robust democracy are critical for communities that face ongoing discrimination. That’s true for LGBTQ people; people who are Black, Indigenous, and people of color; and especially for people living at the intersections of marginalized identities. When people can register to vote, cast a ballot, and have confidence their vote will be counted, they can affect change in their communities that benefit everyone.

Looking at the new Democracy Maps alongside the Equality Maps, there are similarities that speak to how these issues support one another.

For example, six out of the 10 states that rank the highest for LGBTQ equality on the Equality Maps also rank the highest in the Democracy Tally. And of the 10 states that rank the lowest in preserving and protecting the freedom to vote, seven also rank the lowest in ensuring legal protections for LGBTQ people.

Other key takeaways when looking at how voting rights and LGBTQ equality fit together from the new Democracy Maps and the LGBTQ Equality Maps include:

  • Mississippi ranks in the bottom five for LGBTQ equality and has the lowest overall Democracy Tally score.
  • Washington has the highest score in the Democracy Tally and ranks in the top ten for LGBTQ equality.
  • In recent years, Virginia has modernized its election and voting laws, including passing a statewide Voting Rights Act, and ranks as the eighth highest score in the Democracy Tally. Virginia also recently passed a slate of LGBTQ-inclusive laws, including statewide nondiscrimination laws and a ban on conversion “therapy,” making it the first Southern state to achieve a medium category ranking for LGBTQ equality.
  • Texas ranks in the bottom ten for LGBTQ equality. In the Democracy Maps, the state scored no points in the independence and integrity category and ranks 48th in the overall Democracy Tally. This is in part due to an absence of modern voter registration policies, restrictions on mail voting, and a lack of secure voting machines in most jurisdictions. The low overall score is also due to the passage of a new law that threatens election officials with undue criminal penalties and fines, which increases the potential for partisan abuse.
  • New Hampshire ranks in the medium category for LGBTQ equality but has an overall low rank in the Democracy Tally, despite being a state with prominence as the first primary that often sets the tone for presidential campaigns.
  • New York ranks in the top three for LGBTQ equality. But in the Democracy Maps, New York only ranks in the fair category, with less than half of the points possible from the Democracy Tally. This is in part due to low scores in the independence and integrity categories, including the lack of a state-level Voting Rights Act.

A companion report to the Democracy Maps, State of Democracy: How Election Laws Differ Around the Country, finds that access to democracy varies dramatically by state and region of the country. More than three in five voters (141 million voters) live in states with sub-par Democracy Tally scores.

Acknowledging the diversity of LGBTQ people is key to understanding the impact of voter suppression tactics — such as strict voter ID laws and limiting voter registration opportunities — used on the LGBTQ community and other marginalized groups. Taken together, the Democracy Maps and Equality Maps can help us contextualize how issues of civic engagement and democracy are fundamental to the fight for LGBTQ equality in the United States.

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Photo credit: Daniel Fishel



Movement Advancement Project

MAP is an independent, nonprofit think tank that provides rigorous research, insight and communications that help speed equality and opportunity for all.