The Democratic Party Must Do Better On Downballot Messaging: UPDATE
Credit: Isthmus
April 6, 2016

Outreach and voter education are HUGE failing points for the Democratic Party.

Here's a perfect example. Last year there was an article in a local paper, with a quote from the Democratic county chair. There were about a 1/2 dozen comments on the article basically saying "I didn't even know there was a Democratic Party in my County". This was brought up at the governing board meeting and a committee member replied, "well there's the internet and phone book. If they want to know us, they can reach out".

It goes hand in hand with that "blame the voters" mentality that we see from the DNC down.

Seriously, put politics aside for a minute. If you open a business, do no advertising and then get no business, do you go out and start publicly blaming the people for not coming to your business?

It's really become more of a mentality problem that needs to be broken with Democrats. It's not enough to assume a huge turnout actually brings along down-ticket races. Words actually have to be said. Work actually has to be done.

Democrats and Progressives are already up against voter suppression, the attack on unions and dark money. Add to that an uninformed electorate that you have actually managed to get to the polling place, but who does not know how critical down-ballot races are? Because no one in the party bothered to tell them?

We saw this problem in bold letters in Wisconsin last night. ThinkProgress:

As Wisconsin voted to nudge Sanders and Cruz ever so slightly closer to the delegate counts they would need to become presidential nominees, they also cast ballots in a much more decisive election. Rebecca Bradley, a conservative jurist that Gov. Scott Walker (R) temporarily appointed to the Wisconsin Supreme Court to fill a vacancy opened up by the death of her predecessor, won election to that same court. She now gains a much longer term on a court frequently mired in the partisan politics of the state.

While high Republican turnout ensured a Bradley win, it was also clear that thousands, yes thousands, of Democratic voters did not vote for Democratic Judicial candidate JoAnne Kloppenburg.

Bradley... benefited from a likely turnout differential between GOP and Democratic voters (the Trump-Cruz effect). She benefited from a lot of big money (bye-bye John Doe 2). Weirdly, thousands of Democrats voted for Bernie or Clinton, but not JoAnne Kloppenburg. Maybe some liberals were swayed by all those ads. Maybe they are more likely to prefer conservatives in judgeships than other positions. Maybe Kloppenburg was just an awful candidate.

Or maybe they left their downballots blank. There are reports that many did just that, and if so, that's a huge failure on the part of party leadership.

The Democratic Party used to make sample ballots available to voters. One C&L staffer in a midwest state told me:

We used to do that here and I loved it. The people apparently did too, because back when I worked the polls we were always having to pick them up (people would forget them in the polling booth, which then becomes electioneering material so we always had to check). Our state Democratic Party stopped doing it about 15 years ago. Even in our little county party, we still get members asking for them all the time and have to go "well, we don't have it anymore" It's probably the 2nd most common call to our office the month leading up to an election (first being "where do I vote?")

Yes, most states have sample ballots online. There is no excuse for the Democratic Party not having links to EVERY ballot online. Enter your address/zip, here's the Democratic ballot. Here's where you vote, when you vote, and THANK YOU for voting for this slate of candidates.

That's a project Organize for America, the Democratic Party and the White House should get on immediately.

UPDATE: Governing has great news. Two University of Chicago Women have already started on this project:

One new startup aims to... bridge the gap of voter awareness of downballot races. BallotReady, which is affiliated with the University of Chicago, offers comprehensive nonpartisan voter guides on local elections in addition to state and national races.

The BallotReady website, which launched last year, covered the recent Illinois primary election and will soon expand to include all races in Colorado, Florida, Kentucky, Maryland, New Hampshire and Virginia for the November general election. This year, BallotReady’s founders have set an ambitious target: inform a million voters.

Woo hoo!

I am indebted to C&L staffers Jamie, Karoli, and Capper for much of the content of this post.

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