Likewise, Vote.org has launched, according to its news release, “one of the nation’s largest GOTV drives this midterm election.” This 501(c) (3) nonpartisan group “has purchased over 2,500 billboards in 17 metro areas across 9 states and will be running over 1,200 full-page ads in college newspapers via Flytedesk (which will reach 14.5 million students, faculty, and staff), texting more than 11 million people nationwide, partnering with organizations such as Nextdoor, the neighborhood social network, and Lyft to give people more access to the polls, and more.” The theory is that focusing on “low propensity” voters normally missed by campaigns and political parties can expand the electorate by increasing participation among nonwhite voters, first-time voters in 2016 and young voters. (Many voters fall into all three categories.)
There are a few takeaways from this effort, which can be seen as a concerted campaign to counteract voter ID laws, poll closing, voter roll purges and limits on early voting.
First, on one level it is inexcusable that this infrastructure was not put into place earlier. A party that coasted on the popularity of President Barack Obama, to the dismay of many activists, did not build this infrastructure previously. That accounts in part for the disappointing results for Democrats in previous elections.
Second, this is much easier to pull off when there are diverse candidates who look like the irregular voters they are trying to reach. The good news for Democrats is that they have the most diverse slate of candidates ever in both congressional and state races. Politico reported that by early September, Democrats had nominated “at least 133 people of color and 158 first-time candidates to run for the House.” The numbers are striking: “In the 125 districts where a Democratic incumbent is leaving office or a Republican seat is at risk of flipping . . . more than half the nominees (65) are women. An overlapping group of 30 Democratic primary winners are people of color, and 73 of them have never run for elected office before, tapping into voter disdain for politics as usual.”
Likewise, in gubernatorial races, beyond high-profile candidates such as Stacey Abrams in Georgia and Andrew Gillum in Florida, there is Michelle Lujan Grisham (D) in New Mexico, who was the first Latina woman elected to Congress from the state; Paulette Jordan (D) in Idaho, who would become the first Native American governor if elected; Hawaii Republican Andria Tupola, who is of Samoan and Native Hawaiian descent; and Lupe Valdez (D) in Texas,” The Post reported.
Finally, if Democrats are going to commit to expanding the electorate, this will have to be a multiyear effort. A substantial increase in low-propensity voters may not be evident for years, but with Republicans maximizing the white vote and working to make voting more difficult for many voters, Democrats have no choice but to try to counteract these trends. If they are successful, you can bet some Republicans will try to duplicate the efforts, although to attract these voters a party increasingly devoted to white grievances is going to have to change its policies and message. Once in office, Democrats at the state level will need to take measures to expand access (e.g., automatic registration, voting by mail).
The fatalism that some groups simply don’t/won’t vote has to end. It is a political necessity for Democrats, but beyond that, we all have an interest in expanding the electorate if we want to reinforce and re-energize democracy. A country in which only a small percentage of qualified voters cast ballots isn’t much of a democracy.