The fear of Democrats losing power in the upcoming elections has become commonplace and is only intensifying as we approach midterms, but this doesn’t have to be the case. We can walk and chew gum at the same time. Yes, we need to focus on big federal races. We also need to invest further down the ballot on local and state legislative elections every single year. There are no off years.
Candidates alone won’t fix this problem, which is why we also need to be laser focused on combating voter suppression wherever it exists. If we don’t do both of these things, we’re at risk of handing Republicans a permanent majority.
What we’re proposing isn’t radical, but it’s a departure from what we’ve been doing over the last 30 years. Simply focusing on the president and congress has created the climate that has allowed Republicans to mount an assault on voting rights in 43 states!
Republicans have engaged in a 40-year plan to build a permanent majority. They’ve done this by funding state legislative efforts and currently hold 61 state legislatures, while Democrats hold 37. This power has helped the GOP increase voter suppression legislation across the country, something dark money groups have even bragged about participating in, down to helping draft the bills.
We see the negative effects of these influences already playing out in states like Texas, Georgia and Florida where voting rights bills introduced this year tried everything from empowering partisan poll watchers to prohibiting election officials from mailing absentee ballot applications. This is not a trend that will reverse overnight. That’s why we need to focus our attention on state legislative and local offices. Maintaining the Democratic trifecta in D.C., gaining seats in the Senate and fighting back against bad legislation all begins with the offices in our communities — not on Capitol Hill.
These aren’t just talking points either — we’ve seen proven results. Local investments benefit candidates at the top of the ticket. We saw this in 2020 where the reverse coattails effect helped drive turnout for the top of the ticket. Data from a collaboration between BlueLabs and Run for Something shows contested races had a consistently positive effect on the top of the 2020 Democratic ticket of up to 1.5%.
At Run for Something, we have endorsed over 2,000 progressive candidates for local and state office, with over 80,000 potential candidates currently in our pipeline. All of these folks are 40 or under. Of our winners, 55% are women, 56% are people of color and 21% identify as LGBTQIA+. Not only are we electing individuals who are running better elections, expanding access to health care, and making communities safer and more equitable, we’re also helping create a truly reflective democracy that serves everyone.
The US House of Representatives recently passed the John Lewis Voting Rights Act (JLVRA), which would protect voting rights from Republican interference. The legislation now languishes in the Senate where the filibuster is once again being used as a mechanism to prevent the passage of civil rights legislation. Aptly stated by Alabama Democratic Rep. Terri Sewell, “Old battles have become new again.”
Pushback on necessary federal legislation like the JLVRA, as well as blockage of other pro-voting rights legislation like the For The People Act, exemplifies the need for continued investment in the Democratic party. These bills are necessary to protect the right to vote.
The largest part of the American electorate are folks who are registered but do not actually vote. Why? Everything from lack of voter education and proper identification to challenges with getting time off of work to cast a ballot. It is no coincidence that more than half of nonvoters in 2016 had a family income of less than $30,000. Too often access to the ballot is correlated with education, race and income — all people deserve equal access to the ballot.
At Spread the Vote, the goal is to educate, empower and provide voting access to eligible voters. We’ve helped over 7,000 eligible voters gain access to IDs and we’re just getting started. With conversations regarding voter ID laws popping up at the state and federal level, our work is integral in ensuring that all eligible voters have access to the ballot box.
If we want to see a future where all eligible citizens can vote and our elected leaders are more reflective of the communities they lead, we must redouble our efforts locally. The future of our democracy depends on it.
Ross Rocketto is the co-founder of Run for Something, an organization that recruits and supports progressive, diverse, young people who are running for down-ballot office. Prior to starting Run for Something, he managed Wendy Carrillo’s congressional campaign in California.
Kat Calvin is the Founder and Executive Director of Spread The Vote and the Co-Founder and CEO of the Project ID Action Fund. A lawyer, activist, and social entrepreneur, Kat has built a national organization that helps Americans obtain the IDs they need for jobs, housing, and life and that also allows them to go to the polls.