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Erin Murphy
“I have experienced over and over again that women in office bring a different level of productivity,” Minnesota state Sen. Erin Murphy told NOTUS. Trisha Ahmed/AP

A New Project Backing Democratic Women Is Injecting Cash in State-Level Races

The Women in Democracy initiative pledges to raise money for candidates pushing bills that expand voting access.

Donald Trump’s presidency has ramped up the urgency in Democratic circles to pass pro-democracy legislation. A new project wants to give that movement — and the women legislators leading it — a fundraising boost as they try to expand voting access.

It’s a much-welcome injection of cash in an election year where Democrats have struggled to bring in small-dollar donations and aren’t seeing blockbuster fundraising as a whole.

The Women in Democracy project, organized by the Open Democracy PAC, is meant to raise money for candidates to free up time on their schedules that would typically be spent on fundraising. Women make up about a third of state legislators — the most in U.S. history — and have been active in pushing voting bills on the state level.

“Democracy is ultimately the issue that unlocks all other issues,” Eric Ming, executive director of the Open Democracy PAC, told NOTUS. “And when we look at who’s leading the way on prioritizing it in states where it is being done, it’s women.”

The nonpartisan project, which comes as Republicans heighten the election security issue as a centerpiece in their campaigns, is launching with endorsements for seven Democratic state legislators in Michigan, Minnesota, California, Pennsylvania, New Mexico and Nevada.

All seven lawmakers have been involved in voting-related legislation. Michigan Senate Majority Leader Winnie Brinks oversaw the passage of a historic election-bill package in the state last year that extended the early-voting period, created a permanent mail-in voting list and expanded photo ID options. Minnesota Senate Majority Leader Erin Murphy, who was also endorsed by the project, oversaw a bill to restore voting rights to people on parole, probation or community release due to a felony conviction.

Murphy, who became senate majority leader this year, serves in a caucus that now has a majority of women for the first time.

“I have experienced over and over again that women in office bring a different level of productivity. It’s just in our nature,” Murphy told NOTUS. “For me, as a nurse, I can’t walk away from solving a problem. I see that same discipline coming from my colleagues who represent their communities.”

Other candidates include Monique Limon, a California state senator working to pass a bill that could register an additional 3 million voters, most of whom are non-white. Joanna McClinton is Pennsylvania’s first woman and first Black woman to serve as Speaker of the House. She’s leading the push on a bill to allow registered Pennsylvania voters to vote early and in person up to two weeks ahead of Election Day. New Mexico state Sen. Katy Duhigg helped expand the first-in-the-nation Native American Voting Rights Act. And Nevada’s state Sen. Nicole Cannizzaro and House Majority Floor Leader Sandra Jauregui oversaw the passage of a bill allowing tribal members to vote absentee using an electronic ballot system.

The Women in Democracy project plans to promote its candidates both in person and online through social media, influencer campaigns and other digital projects. The initial focus will be on person-to-person outreach to donors and fundraisers.

“At the state level, you don’t always have the staff that you’d imagine a member of Congress would have,” Ming said. “A lot of the time, they’re their own communications and legislative directors and also being asked to raise tens of thousands of dollars to get reelected and help other members of their caucus get reelected.”

The Republican focus on election bills has brought the issue to the forefront of voters’ minds across the country, Murphy said. The Women in Democracy project just needs that interest to translate to funding and votes.

“Americans are strong proponents of democratic governing and they know that those institutions are threatened right now,” Murphy said. “That’s why we’re talking about it, and I’m excited to strengthen our voice there.”

Calen Razor is a NOTUS reporter and an Allbritton Journalism Institute fellow.