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Ideas Challenge 2023: Bolstering Democracy and Community Engagement

Finalists in this year’s Challenge include initiatives to enhance voting access and infrastructure, inclusive redistricting, boosting voter engagement, protecting election workers and promoting community healing.

This category, Protecting Democracy and Fostering Community Engagement , features five finalists in the NewDEAL Ideas Challenge 2023.

1. New Mexico's Landmark Legislation Bolsters Democracy: Voting Rights Expanded, Election Infrastructure Revamped

Secretary Maggie Toulouse Oliver Leads the Charge in a Dual Legislation Triumph, Elevating Access and Integrity in State Elections.

Entry: New Mexico Voting Rights Act and Election Infrastructure Bill

Leader: Maggie Toulouse Oliver


The New Mexico Voting Rights Act (HB4) includes a number of critical provisions to expand ballot access, especially among specific communities. The Election Infrastructure Bill (SB 180), includes provisions to modernize and enhance New Mexico’s election infrastructure. Together, these bills demonstrate that expanding ballot access while enhancing ballot integrity can happen simultaneously.

The NM Voting Rights Act includes provisions to restore voting rights for formerly incarcerated individuals; strengthen New Mexico’s automatic voter registration system; create a permanent absentee ballot list and expand the use of secure ballot drop boxes; and most notably, a provision titled the Native American Voting Rights Act, the first of its kind in the entire country. The NAVRA portion of this bill protects ballot access for our Indigenous, tribal, and Pueblo communities throughout New Mexico by ensuring they have input on polling locations.

SB 180 brings New Mexico’s election infrastructure further into the 21st century and allows candidates to pursue digital petition collection options, making this process more equitable and more aligned with campaign practices of today. It creates more layers of protection to ensure the integrity of absentee ballots and reflect the growing preference for absentee voting nationally. It also creates a more substantive process by which New Mexico’s elections are audited to ensure accurate and reliable results, while also including provisions for local officials to verify and streamline those and related processes.

Impact: The Secretary of State’s office will use funds from the Help America Vote Act to conduct a study in partnership with the University of New Mexico’s political science department to measure policy impact, voter trends, and voter perceptions of New Mexico’s election practices.

Current Status: I’m so pleased to report that both of these bills were passed by our Legislature, signed by our governor, and my office recently completed its rule-making process for both. There are some provisions that will be phased in over time, but the rest are in full effect today.

Other Notes: These bills, mainly the NM Voting Rights Act, attracted a fair bit of national attention to help New Mexico secure its status as a leader on democratic practices.

2. Jefferson County's Innovative Approach: Redefining Redistricting for Community Engagement

Under the Leadership of Clerk Amanda Gonzalez, Jefferson County's New Redistricting Process Sets a Benchmark for Inclusive Civic Participation.

Entry: Creating a More Inclusive Redistricting Process

Leader: Amanda Gonzalez


The clerk and recorder in Jefferson County, Colorado, reimagined a process for community-led redistricting, which was implemented in 2023. In a democracy, there’s no liberty more fundamental than the right for voters to freely choose who represents them. The new county redistricting policy and practice in Jefferson County resulted in one of the most inclusive and engaging processes in all of Colorado.

The process was guided by three principles: accessibility, inclusion, and legal compliance. Rather than drawing lines in a back room out of the public eye, the clerk and recorder’s office created a policy that created maps with public input, provided virtual and in-person ways for the public to have their voice heard, and ultimately drew the final version of a map in front of a public audience.

Impact: The process resulted in increased public engagement, including reaching over 17,000 people virtually and in person at public meetings at geographically diverse locations that were ADA accessible. The clerk and recorder’s office provided the county commissioners and the public with a preliminary map to consider and revised the map to include feedback from community members. The commissioners then made final edits to the map during a public meeting.

Current Status: This idea has been implemented.

3. Empowering Voters: Delaware Proposes Comprehensive Election Information Mail-Out

Sub-headline: Under the Guidance of Leader Krista Griffith, HB 82 Seeks to Equip Voters with Detailed Election Info via Mail, Awaiting Governor's Approval.

Entry: Access to Accurate and Timely Election Information

Leader: Krista Griffith


Description: Despite failed efforts to expand access to voting by absentee ballot, this policy would use the mail to put as much information into the hands of voters as possible so they know about every option they have to cast their ballot.

HB 82 would ensure that voters have access to this information by directing the Department of Elections to biennially mail a notice to all registered voters containing pertinent information, including their polling place, the dates and times of the general and any primary elections, registration deadlines, and polling place and early voting policies and procedures.

Prior to the legislation, voters received a card in the mail with their polling location and election districts, but the cards did not give residents the full picture of voting options, such as how to cast ballots during early voting, the criteria for absentee voting, and other pertinent information.

Impact: This legislation was a direct result of conversations with voters who expressed frustration with not knowing all methods of voting. This legislation will give voters the tools they need to make a plan to vote and will provide new tools to engage voters.

Current Status: The legislation — House Bill 82 — passed both the House of Representatives and Senate in the Delaware General Assembly. It now awaits signature by Delaware Gov. John Carney.

4. San Antonio's CompassionateUSA Initiative Spreads Nationwide, Fosters Community Healing

Sub-headline: Mayor Ron Nirenberg Champions Program Extending Free Compassion Micro-Courses Nationwide, Impacting Policies and Education at Various Levels.

Entry: CompassionateUSA

Leader: Ron Nirenberg


As part of its broader violence prevention strategy, the leaders in San Antonio collaborated with the Alamo Colleges District and the San Antonio Peace Center to launch CompassionateUSA. Compassionate USA is a people-centered campaign with an accompanying micro-course to promote compassion and community healing. These courses help develop foundational skills, a common language, and shared practices for all ages and communities and increase individual and community capacity and resilience on a systemic level. The city made the program freely available to every city, town, and territory across the United States.

Impact: With close to 300 participating communities, stories are already coming in from across the U.S. and beyond on how the program is influencing policies to reflect the ethic of reciprocity. For example, teaching hospitals requiring compassionate care training and including the curriculum in pre-K and Ph.D. programs.

Current Status: The curriculum and videos are complete and posted globally at no cost on the Internet at The campaign portion will continue to run indefinitely as a globally accessible and educated network of humanity forms via relational collaboration and a highly interactive web presence.

5. Protecting Election Workers: California Bill Strengthens Safeguards Against Voter Aggression

Entry: Expanded Protections for Election Workers

Leader: Josh Becker


SB 485 seeks to address the surge in aggression from voters who refuse to accept election outcomes and aims to restore voters’ confidence in the electoral process. The bill will 1) expand the existing felony of interfering with election officials, voters, and the voting process to protect temporary election workers, and 2) broaden the definition of “voting at an election” to encompass in-person voting at polling places, the office of the election official, satellite locations, and voting by mail.

Temporary workers, who often play critical roles in election administration, deserve the same level of protection as other election officials. Ensuring their safety while carrying out their duties is crucial to maintaining the efficient functioning of elections. The bill’s broader definition of “voting at an election” is equally significant and encompasses various voting methods, including in-person voting at polling places, the office of the election official, satellite locations, and voting by mail.

Impact: The bill’s success will be reflected in increased recourse for victims and an eventual decrease in violence and aggression toward election workers.

By providing a stronger legal framework to hold those who engage in disruptive and aggressive behavior accountable, victims have more recourse, and individuals who commit such offenses will face appropriate consequences. The bill’s effectiveness will be tracked through the number of reported incidents using data from the Secretary of State’s Election Voter Complaint Portal.

Current Status: This idea has recently passed out of policy committees with strong support in the California Assembly and is set to be heard by the Assembly Appropriations Committee.

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