‘Defend Democracy’: Democrats launch massive recruitment drive for local poll workers

“Election subversion in 2024 won’t be a mob storming the Capitol, it’ll be a county clerk in Michigan or an election supervisor in Florida deciding to screw it all up,” Litman said. “The only way to protect democracy in the long term is to elect people who will defend democracy.”

The program will include all states where election administrators are themselves elected by voters. It represents one of the boldest organized attempts to place Democratic-backed candidates in those positions, in response to Trump’s endorsement of various campaign posts by followers who subscribe to conspiracy theories that the 2020 election were stolen. Other Republicans are also organizing around those offices, including former Trump aide Steve Bannon, who urged Trump supporters and 2020 election deniers on his podcast to get involved in US politics. gone and to “take it back…neighborhood by neighborhood”.

Run for Something is working in coordination with other Democrat groups on “Clerk Work”. Partners include American Bridge, a Democratic group that compiles and shares opposition research, and Open Democracy PAC, a super PAC that spends on advertising to boost these candidates.

“There’s clearly an effort from the right side, and there needs to be a clear effort from the Democratic side as well,” said Stephanie Schriock, former chair of EMILY’s List, another Democratic group focused on recruiting and supporting candidates. abortion rights that arise. for office. “Now is the time to go big on this.”

So far, Litman said they’ve raised nearly $6 million for the push, having quietly kicked off the fundraiser in late 2021. She described the donors she and Morales Rocketto have spoken to as “really responsive,” but added, “I think they miss the urgency.”

A memo to donors stresses that “early support has an outsized impact as we strive to recruit good candidates before it’s too late.”

“The left is decades behind in investing in the local infrastructure needed to counter emerging anti-democratic forces on the right,” the memo continues. “Supporting our election administration infrastructure at the local level is our last best option. If we want to win, we have to go fast. »

A donor adviser, who met with the founders of Run for Something, said the project “plays a role in the Democratic ecosystem that no other group or committee plays.”

Privately, some Democrats have grumbled that Run for Something is filling a void left by a lack of action by the Democratic National Committee and party states. “It’s almost a travesty that it has to be done because they should be doing it, but they’re not doing it,” said a Democratic operative involved in the effort, who spoke on condition of anonymity to candidly discuss the issue. .

Much of the pitch draws on Run for Something’s five years of experience supporting local candidates, from campaign launch to Election Day. The group offers logistical support, such as how to file campaign finance documents, as well as templates for campaign strategy. Run for Something also connects applicants with mentors, as well as other current applicants, to build a sense of community around the application.

So far, they have recorded a 42% win rate for their endorsed candidates, supporting 639 winning candidates over the past five years.

“It’s so helpful to have mentors you can call on or people to ask silly questions about how to format that document or where to file that paperwork. Only logistics can be a barrier to entry, if you’re a new candidate,” said Amanda Gonzalez, first-time candidate for clerk from Jefferson County, Colorado. “There are not always resources at that level, so it is extremely important to have an organization that gets it. »

To recruit candidates for these positions, Run for Something has previously run digital ads with slogans such as: “Your future is calling: the deadline to run for office in Montana is March 14” or “Ready to do the difference ?” But it will also involve intensive recruitment on the ground through staff members, who will actively seek out potential candidates.

For example, in McLean County, Illinois, a Democratic candidate for county clerk cited Run for Something recruiting as the reason she decided to challenge a three-term GOP incumbent, who initially presented without opposition.

Run for Something launched a pilot program in late 2021, spending $1 million to recruit candidates for 50 election offices across the country. Of the 40 who already had filing deadlines, the group was able to field a Democratic candidate in just over half of them.

Another example of what spending might look like came out of Wisconsin’s spring local elections. Open Democracy PAC spent money on digital ads and phone calls to boost 14 candidates, nine of whom won. Many were looking for local positions that have a role in the administration of elections.

There are concerns that getting involved in these races, some of which are non-partisan, could politicize positions that have not traditionally been aspired to in this setting. But “the reality,” Litman said, “is that the Republican Party has made democracy a partisan issue, so we have no choice.

“We’re going to be mindful of where our public engagement with candidates is going to be different, where our endorsement is helpful versus where we should be behind the scenes,” Litman continued. “I wish we didn’t have to.”