Open Letter to ADP Leaders: Voter Registration Success Is Just the Beginning

Dear Candidates for ADP Chair and Other Leadership Offices,

Thanks for putting yourselves on the line for the Arizona Democratic Party. We need your help.

Democrats registered more voters in the 2018-2020 election cycle than any other party in Arizona, but that’s just the beginning if we are to move the state from the solid purple it is to true blue. “Political change and voter registration is something that doesn’t happen overnight or (in) a cycle,” State Rep. Reginald Bolding Jr., D-Phoenix, told Cronkite News Service. There is a consensus of those interviewed for the article that grassroots efforts are responsible for this voter registration success. But who are those grassroots organizers? And what more can they do?

In Coconino County, we know that our party’s work with the Northeast Arizona Native Democrats is responsible for new Native American voters and we know that efforts on the NAU campus by our county party and the non-partisan Associated Students organization pushed student registration. Likewise, pre-COVID, we were able to register voters at events and through canvassing in Flagstaff and Page using techniques learned from Field Team 6 to assure we were getting Democratic registrants. Post-COVID, we dropped literature at residences where we were likely to find unregistered Democratic voters; the literature carefully explained voter registration options with a local emphasis – specific county office addresses as well as a simple website link.

Statewide, Latino organizers working with Mi Familia Vota and LUCHA registered many new Latino voters, and probably — but not necessarily — many of them were Democrats. Getting the attention of those organizations to our competitive legislative district was unsuccessful. Meanwhile, the website link for the Arizona Democratic Party’s Latino Caucus led to “page not found.”

We should be proud of the accomplishment of registering enough Democrats to surpass the number of registered Independents. But can the State Party claim that success? Certainly not totally given the work of independent groups. And, we still have a ways to go to catch up with Republicans in voter registration. In the cycle, Democrats registered 226,579 new voters to reach 1.38 million voters, or 32.2% of all Arizona registered voters — surpassing Independents. And, we registered more than Republicans, who registered  220,446 in the same period but still had 35.2% of registered voters.

Republicans are also better at getting their voters to the polls and getting them to vote the entire ballot. While locally our county party emphasized down-ballot voting in literature, arranging candidate appearances, and with the theme “vote bottom-up,” the big money in this election went to the Presidential and Senate campaigns, which swooped in to suck up most of the oxygen in the last few months. We still think we made an impact, but we wonder at the lack of a strong statewide strategy to turn our legislature blue and to elect Democratic candidates in county races. (Maricopa County lost all the gains made in 2018 except in the sheriff’s race.)

Even in the Presidential and Senate races, Maricopa and Pima cannot be counted on to do it alone, especially if Republicans come up with better candidates than they had in 2020. We need an effective grassroots effort throughout the state — and it can’t start in any month that ends with 2022 — even January 2022 is too late. The effort must start as soon as we have a new State Chair, who must hit the ground running hard.

Registering voters is one piece of a grassroots strategy, but getting Democrats to the polls requires a higher level of civic engagement — a belief that voting matters. Grassroots organizers need to work within our communities year-round, including off-years like 2021. Traditionally, parties managed this work (or imagined they did) with precinct captains. But not all of our precincts have PCs and in the 21st Century, social life is not organized around neighborhoods but more often around shared interests.

Thus, the Coconino County Democratic Party has engaged in outreach at community events, by organizing around issues of interest (education, environment, minimum wage), and among cohesive ethnic groups. This work by our county party began in 2017 but, as many recognize, the work does not bear fruit overnight. Our greatest success has been in our tribal communities on sovereign lands — this is clearly an important part of our county’s voter base — between 20% and 25%. Partnering with party activists in other Northeast Arizona Counties, we now have the Northeast Arizona Native Democrats, which should serve as a model for grassroots organizing by Democrats throughout the state. Our 2019-2020 student intern program also was a new county party effort to engage NAU students — we plan to push those boundaries of youth organizing beyond the NAU campus starting now. Our LatinX Voter Committee engaged community members in visioning for a new elementary school, celebrating holidays, and engaging with our candidates; this work will continue and expand. Our rural outreach let Democrats in some parts of the county discover for the first time that they were not alone in a sea of red starting with social gatherings in 2018-2019, literature distribution in 2020, and culminating in blanketing our rural precincts with signs as Election Day approached (courageously replacing those torn down, over and over).

Even if all of the outreach work is done with volunteers — which it should not be if we are serious — money is required for supplies, postage, food, decorations, publicity. For providing technology to those leaders who can’t afford it themselves, for providing travel funds (once we can gather in person again), and for staff to support the work of the volunteers. Thanks to the generosity and dedication of Coconino County Democrats, our county party has been able to manage this work so far. Other counties are not so lucky and we will face budgetary constraints this year that will limit our plans.

Thus, we write this open letter to the soon-to-be elected leaders of the Arizona Democratic Party — and to the DNC: Remember where the work is done. Know that these local places know their voters and potential voters better than you do and that they will be trusted more in their communities than anyone else. Support us. Prioritize our work.

Sincerely,

Ann Heitland
Chair, Coconino County Democratic Party

Posted in Latest News.