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Open Society and Free and Fair Elections in the United States

In the United States, the Open Society Foundations work to protect and expand the right the vote and to have that vote counted accurately because we believe that access to the ballot box is central to building a pluralistic, multiracial democracy. While a vibrant and healthy democracy does not begin or end with elections, political participation allows everyone to hold their government accountable and to express their policy preferences. 

This is why Open Society takes a holistic approach toward protecting democracy by funding organizations that support nonpartisan civic engagement; work to ensure the administration of free and fair elections, promote fair political representation, and guard against mis- and disinformation. 

Areas of Focus

Nonpartisan Civil Engagement: Open Society–United States supports groups working to bring more people, especially those often discriminated against and excluded from the corridors of power, into the political process. In the last few years, this has included: 

Protecting voting rights: Protecting and expanding the right to vote has been a fundamental part of Open Society’s work in the U.S. for more than a decade. Every year, our grants to nonpartisan organizations help ensure that elections are administered competently, fairly, and in accordance with democratic processes and the rule of law; that votes are properly and accurately counted; that there is maximum civic engagement of marginalized communities; and that election workers are trained and protected.  

Since the Supreme Court repealed major portions of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 with its ruling in Shelby County v. Holder in 2013, the Open Society Foundations have worked with other funders to create the Shelby Response Fund, providing a pool of funds and a platform for nonpartisan grantees to coordinate litigation to prevent further erosion of federal voting rights provisions. 

Ensuring fair political representation: Open Society has supported nonpartisan organizations to ensure fair representation in Congress by curbing the practice of extreme gerrymandering. State legislatures’ power to draw congressional district boundaries to include or exclude voters in the political process dates to the founding of our nation. While some of the more outrageous attempts at redistricting have been ruled unconstitutional, too many districts have been shaped to serve partisan interests. Open Society has funded groups to ensure minorities and other marginalized groups are not disproportionately harmed in attempts at extreme gerrymandering. 

Open Society also has funded organizations working to put transparency at the heart of the campaign finance system to reduce the amount of unregulated and undisclosed money in politics. This includes funding initiatives that led to passage of the landmark McCain-Feingold bill, which increased transparency and closed loopholes in the campaign finance system. Since the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision in 2010, Open Society has funded investigative journalism and government accountability organization to track and make public “dark money” in politics. 

Fighting against disinformation: Open Society has funded organizations who monitor and counter disinformation because an open and free democracy cannot thrive if its voters are inundated with fabrications, half-truths, and other forms of mis- and disinformation. Congress has failed to enact new internet privacy regulations to ensure that the rights of all people are protected and that tech companies serve the public interest. As a result, tech companies have emerged as a more modern threat to democracy as they have scaled back—and all but given up—on efforts to monitor and track misinformation. This has only exacerbated social fracturing and societal inequalities, while making it easier for anti-democratic and hate groups to organize online.  

Protecting rights and democracy from the potential harms of AI: Artificial intelligence has the potential to cause even more harm to critical rights and liberties, elections, and civic discourse than social media companies have. In 2023, Open Society joined nine other leading philanthropies to launch a $200 million initiative to ensure that artificial intelligence protects democracy as well as the rights and freedoms of all people.  

Ballot initiatives: With funding to nonpartisan efforts to change the law through ballot initiatives and referenda, the Open Society Action Fund has supported organizations seeking to protect and expand reproductive freedoms, increase wages and access to care, and bring about political reform measures, including ranked choice voting. Following the Supreme Court’s 2022 decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, Open Society increased the total amount of grants to organizations working to protect and expand reproductive freedom measures at a state level. The agency and ability to make decisions about one’s own body and health is fundamental to living in a free and open society.  

Legal Background

The Open Society Foundations support efforts around the world to protect and support election integrity. We support democratic process, not any particular political party or candidate. 

Open Society Institute is a 501(c)(3) private foundation and does not lobby or engage in political campaigns and other activities in the U.S. prohibited by its tax status. Through its U.S.-based program, Open Society-United States, Open Society supports nonpartisan, tax-exempt organizations to make democracy in the United States more accessible, representative, and responsive.  

The Open Society Action Fund is a 501(c)(4) nonpartisan social welfare organization. It makes grants to organizations seeking to pass or oppose legislation, presidential nominations, and ballot initiatives. It does not engage in political campaign activities with support for candidates for public office or political parties.

All Open Society grant making complies with U.S. tax law and upholds the requirements for keeping 501(c)(4) activities separate from 501(c)(3) entities. To the extent activities described constitute lobbying under U.S. tax law, they have been undertaken by a 501(c)(4). 
All grants made by the Open Society Foundations entities in the United States are publicly disclosed. Grants supporting efforts to defend and protect democratic governance are listed on the Open Society Foundations’ website and annually, as required by the Internal Revenue Service. The Open Society Action Fund is registered under the federal Lobbying Disclosure Act (LDA) and files quarterly reports and complies with state and local law governing ballot initiatives. 

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