Meanwhile, by contrast, pundits often portray Black Americans as an undifferentiated mass – loyal Democrat-supporting foot soldiers who will execute their mission for The Team on Tuesday as long as some preacher provides the right marching orders on Sunday.
If these depictions have not already expired, they are certainly growing stale. Having studied electoral trends for decades, we can tell you that those undecided voters of the past are an endangered species – in the Midwest and elsewhere. These days, the only choice that most Americans make – indeed, the choice that typically “swings” the election outcome — is whether to vote at all.
That brings us to the characterization of Black Americans as Democratic loyalists.
Our new survey of 1,215 African Americans in battleground states – Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Florida, North Carolina and Georgia – reveals that while those over 60 remain among the most reliable of Democratic voters, and those between 40-59 are still pretty locked in as well, those under 30 (whom we oversampled to comprise half of our sample) are anything but.
Not sold on Biden
Only 47% of those Black Americans under 30 years old that we surveyed plan to vote for the presumed Democratic presidential nominee, Joe Biden. That’s roughly the same percentage who have anything positive to say when asked what “one or two words come to mind” about the former vice president.
Cathy Cohen, a professor of political science at the University of Chicago who studies Black youths’ political views, summed up this attitude in a recent podcast: “They’ve seen the election of Black mayors, they’ve seen the election of the first Black president, and they’ve also seen that their lives have not changed.”
But survey respondents of all stripes tend to wildly overestimate their intention to vote. Indeed, about half of our Black survey respondents under 30 say they don’t often vote because it “doesn’t make a difference,” providing a somewhat more realistic estimate of the percentage who will probably just stay home – and not search for a stamp to mail in their ballot, either.
And that number does not even take into account the turnout-depressing effects of voter suppression efforts taking place across the country, the pandemic or the heavy distrust of mail-in voting that young Black people tend to express. Only 64% of young people in our sample say they trust the state to report their vote accurately, and only 30% say they plan to take advantage of mail-in voting.
Not sold on the Democratic Party
Such cynicism on the part of young Black Americans is reflected in the lukewarm feelings they tend to have toward the Democratic Party more generally.
Only 47% of them say that the party is welcoming to Black Americans, and only 43% say they trust Democrats in Congress to do what’s best for the Black community. Perhaps most strikingly, unlike their older counterparts, only half of those under 30 view the Democrats as any better than the Republicans on these scores.
In both the survey responses and in the focus groups we conducted of young Black Americans in these same states, we heard repeated frustration toward what they view as a Democratic Party that expects their vote but doesn’t really do anything to deserve it other than claim to be “less racist” than the alternative.
As one of our focus group respondents put it, “I think at the end of the day, they all have the same agenda.”
In short, it appears that for Black America, the future is not necessarily “blue.” Electorally speaking, it is not necessarily anything at all. Moving forward, young Black Americans may be the real “swing voters” in the only way that term really makes much sense anymore.
The article originally appeared on ProPublica, a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative newsroom.
New From ProPublica and The Atlantic
How Voter-Fraud Hysteria and Partisan Bickering Ate American Election Oversight
The federal Election Assistance Commission has neglected key responsibilities or ceded them to other agencies — and two of its four commissioners are parroting the president’s unfounded warnings about vote by mail. Read the story.
Voting During a Pandemic
An Alabama poll worker who worked during last week’s runoff has been hospitalized with COVID-19; the state did not require voters to wear masks to vote. At least three poll workers in Texas’ McLennan County tested positive for coronavirus after working the polls; one is hospitalized. One worker estimated between 10 and 15% of voters weren’t wearing masks; the state exempted polling places from its mask mandate. (WBRC, Waco Tribune-Herald)
The Kansas secretary of state said voters won’t be turned away for not wearing a mask to the polls during the state primary. The governors of Michigan and Tennessee said masks would be encouraged, but not required, to vote in upcoming elections. (Kansas.com, Detroit Free Press, Knoxville News Sentinel)
During Geogia’s prrimary, the majority of the polling places that stayed open late were in majority non-white communities. (GPB News)
The current housing crisis and a coming wave of evictions could disrupt access to the ballot; displaced voters will have to register to vote at their new address. (Fast Company)
Preparing for In-Person Voting in the Fall
Poll worker shortages are a problem across the country; officials in Connecticut, Kentucky, Michigan, Minnesota and Tennessee have recently sounded the alarm. (NBC Connecticut, WLKY, WXYZ, KSTP, WKNO)
The Nevada secretary of state says she doesn’t have the funds to run an all-mail election in the fall, and plans to return to in-person voting. (Las Vegas Review Journal)
North Carolina’s top elections official issued an order requiring a minimum number of early voting sites across the state. The order also says poll workers will have to wear masks, but voters won’t. (Associated Press)
Maryland election officials and advocates are critical of the governor’s plan for the general election to be held primarily in-person; the Baltimore election director called it a “setup for failure.” The governor said the plan offers flexibility to voters, and blamed the debate on “partisan politics.” (Baltimore Sun)
With limited access to mail voting, Mississippi will rely heavily on in-person voting. Legislators went against the secretary of state’s proposal to expand mail voting, and also decided against giving election workers hazard pay. (Clarion Ledger)
The pandemic could dampen college student turnout in California this fall. (KQED)
Because of the pandemic, more than 300,000 immigrants may not become citizens in time to vote, including 5,000 in Arizona. (The Arizona Republic)
Vote by Mail News
At least 76% of U.S. voters will be eligible to cast a mail ballot in the fall, according to a new analysis. (The Washington Post)
Per a Pew survey, about two-thirds of Americans believe voters should be able to vote absentee or early without a documented excuse. A new ABC News/Washington Post poll found that 49% of Americans think mail voting is susceptible to fraud. (Pew Research, ABC News)
The Brookings Institution rated each state on its current vote by mail systems; only six states and the District of Columbia received an A rating. (Brookings)
The Iowa secretary of state will send absentee ballot applications to all registered voters for the general election. (CBS2 Iowa)
The Tennessee secretary of state said he opposes drop boxes for absentee ballots, claiming they posed a security issue. (AP)
The governor of West Virginia said that widespread vote by mail would be unlikely in the fall. (WV Metro News)
The D.C. Board of Elections agreed to send all registered voters a mail ballot ahead of the November election. (DCist)
President Donald Trump continued his unfounded attacks on mail voting, and worried Republican officials are reportedly asking his campaign to convince him to change his tune. (CNN)
Mail Voting Problems
Five Senate Democrats wrote a letter to the postmaster general asking him to explain the USPS’ plan to manage a huge increase in mail ballots. (Vox)
New York’s potentially high mail ballot rejection rate during the primary doesn’t bode well for the fall. Three weeks after the primary votes were still being counted, with no running count of vote totals. (The Intercept, Vice News, The New York Times)
New York City passed legislation in 2016 to create an online tracking system for absentee ballots, but the board of elections never implemented it. (Gotham Gazette)
A caveat in Tennessee’s voting law could prevent those who live in nursing homes and long-term care homes from voting absentee. (The Tennessean, ABC10)
Alaska Republicans sent out 22,000 absentee ballot applications with incorrect information prefilled on the forms. (Anchorage Daily News)
Vote by mail is worsening partisan rifts among officials in Michigan. (MLive)
Facebook said it would label posts from all presidential candidates about mail voting, regardless of whether the posts contain misinformation. (Axios)
Election Law News
Alabama: Voters won’t need an excuse to vote absentee in the fall, though they will need to provide ID and witness signatures. (WHNT, Sam Levine)
Georgia: State agencies have done little to clarify rules about voting eligibility for ex-felons who haven’t paid all their fines. If they don’t get the necessary paperwork in order to register to vote or cast a ballot, they risk prosecution. (WABE)
Idaho: The county clerk from the state’s most populous county wants the legislature to hold a special session to consider election legislation before the fall. (KTVB)
Kentucky: The secretary of state is working on cleaning up the voter rolls to remove deceased and nonresident voters. (WTVQ)
Michigan: Lawmakers aim to hold an urgent hearing on legislation that would allow clerks to start processing ballots before Election Day. (WILX)
Mississippi: The governor signed a bill that allows voters to cast an absentee ballot if a doctor asked them to quarantine or if they’re caring for someone under quarantine. (Daily Journal)
New York: Legislators reached a deal on automatic voter registration. (NY1)
Rhode Island: Lawmakers passed a bill that asks the secretary of state to send all qualified voters a mail ballot in the fall and waive mail ballot witness requirements. (Providence Journal)
The Latest From The Courts
Alabama: A federal appeals court upheld the state’s voter ID law, ruling that it is not racially discriminatory. (AP)
Alaska: Advocacy groups sued over the decision to send out absentee ballots to registered voters over age 65, excluding younger voters. (SitNews)
Arkansas: In a lawsuit over absentee voting, a circuit judge gave plaintiffs a week to prove they’d be harmed by the state’s mail voting practices. (Arkansas Democrat Gazette)
Florida: Parties reached a settlement over the state’s mail voting procedures. In another case, a judge refused to issue an injunction to order Miami to open more early voting sites. (Tampa Bay Times, CBSMiami)
Maine: Visually impaired voters sued the state over the accessibility of absentee ballots. (Maine Public Radio)
Michigan: An appeals court upheld the state’s identification rules for registering to vote. The ACLU sued Flint over how the city is processing absentee ballot applications. (Detroit Free Press, Michigan Radio)
New York: Candidates and voters filed a lawsuit after the state threw out thousands of ballots due to postmark problems. (Gothamist/WNYC)
North Carolina: A prosecutor doubled charges against a Black North Carolina woman who voted while on probation in 2016 and says she didn’t know she was ineligible. (The Guardian)
Tennessee: A judge upheld the state’s vote by mail laws for the state primary, but said he would consider whether to block them for the general election. A lawsuit was filed to enfranchise felons who were convicted in another state. (AP, AP)
Texas: In a lawsuit, civil rights groups asked the state to change in-person voting to protect voters’ health and prevent disenfranchisement. (Texas Tribune)
National: The Supreme Court’s recent decisions not to intervene in voting rights cases have concerned some experts. Nationwide, at least 151 election lawsuits have been filed through July 15. (The New York Times, USA Today)
Election News From Washington
Congressman and civil rights leader John Lewis passed away at age 80 last week. After his death, House Democrats plan to reveal new voting legislation that would restore parts of the Voting Rights Act, one of Lewis’ legacies. (The New York Times, The Hill)
The Senate Rules and Administration Committee held a hearing on elections yesterday as senators consider whether to provide states more funding for the general election. (CourtHouse News)
President Trump wouldn’t say if he’ll accept this year’s election results, falsely claiming the mail voting will “rig” the election. His comment alarmed experts, who warned of a potential post-election crisis. (The Washington Post, CNN)
“What the president is doing is willfully and wantonly undermining confidence in the most basic democratic process we have,” William A. Galston, chair of the Brookings Institution’s Governance Studies Program, told the Post. (The Washington Post)
Matt Masterson, a senior adviser at DHS’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, warned that some city and county election officials have “been sharing passwords over email or default passwords are being used.” (State Scoop)
More than 30 states have asked the National Guard to provide cybersecurity help for the election. (WVIK)
This article originally appeared on ProPublica.org, a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative newsroom.
Kentucky and New York held presidential primaries last week with elections also taking place in Massachusetts, Mississippi, the Carolinas, and Virginia.
Kentucky was in the spotlight due to a reduction of polling places; a judge ruled against opening additional sites in the state’s most populous counties. There were long lines reported in Lexington. (Courier-Journal, WAVE)
In Jefferson County, Kentucky there were shuttle buses to the one polling site, a convention center, and Lyft also offered free rides. (WLKY)
About 85% of Kentucky voters cast a mail ballot; only 15% voted in person. (WHAS11)
“Us standing in line for two hours is nothing compared to people who got shot and killed, dogs turned on them, hoses turned on them to vote,” a Kentucky voter said. “So, my two hours in line, even though I got a bad ankle, I’m gonna do it. Because what else are you gonna do?” (WFPL)
A Kentucky voter had to convince officials that her dog literally ate her mail ballot in order for her to vote in person. (Kentucky.com)
In Kentucky, this election was the first time former felons could vote since the law changed late last year. (WFPL, Lex18)
At Jefferson County’s polling site, poll workers cheered when first-time voters checked in. (John Boyle)
In New York, some voters didn’t receive their mail ballots as the state received a large number of requests. More than 1.7 million voters requested ballots, a tenfold increase over 2016. (Gothamist, The New York Times)
In New York City, some voters were given only one of two pages of ballots , and there were other poll-related problems. Some polling sites opened late because of COVID-related subway closures. New York City’s Public Advocate called on the Board of Elections to make changes before November. (The City, Gothamist, AMNY)
During the Pennsylvania primary, most Democrats voted by mail while most Republicans voted in person. (The Philadelphia Inquirer)
More than 1.46 million Democrats are registered to vote by mail in Florida in November, compared to 1.16 million Republicans. (Politico)
A Des Moines Register/Mediacom Iowa Poll found that only 41% of Iowan voters say they are likely to vote by mail in the fall. Democrats were nearly twice as likely to say they’d vote by mail as Republicans. (Des Moines Register)
Close to 7,000 Nevada primary ballots weren’t counted because of signature match problems. (Associated Press)
Ahead of Louisiana’s July primary, there’s already been an uptick in mail ballot requests from senior citizens. (The Advocate)
A left-leaning donor group announced a $59 million effort to support vote by mail. (Associated Press)
President Donald Trump made more false claims about mail voting this week, alleging without evidence that foreign powers would print fake mail ballots. This is a theory originally floated by Attorney General William Barr and has been widely disputed by experts. Asked by a reporter to give examples on vote by mail fraud, the president gave an example that is not actually fraud. (Politico, The Guardian, Seth Masket)
This week, former DHS Secretary Tom Ridge, a Republican, said that discouraging vote by mail could hurt GOP candidates. (The Hill)
Ongoing Coronavirus Impacts
A nonprofit group called the Voter Protection Corps released a report on how to protect in-person voting, which some say is getting overlooked in the discussion of ramping up mail voting. (Boston.com)
Poll workers, voters, election board members and election observers testified before the Georgia legislature on the problems they faced during the chaotic primary. (Atlanta Journal-Constitution)
Part of this year’s poll worker recruitment problem involves workers cancelling at the last minute over health concerns. (USA Today)
Kansas City will give city employees paid days off to work the polls during Missouri’s upcoming elections. (Kansas City Star)
After Georgia’s primary, a temporary Dekalb County elections employee tested positive for COVID-19. (The Champion)
A Philadelphia poll watcher tested positive for coronavirus less than 2 weeks after the election, but voters and election workers won’t be notified. (Penn Live)
A Brennan Center for Justice study found that a reduction in polling places and fear of the pandemic affected primary turnout among Milwaukee voters. (Madison 365)
Voting Legislation News
California: The governor signed legislation to require election officials to send a mail ballot to every registered voter in November. State lawmakers approved a ballot measure that will allow Californias to decide whether to restore voting rights to those on parole. (Associated Press, Sacramento Bee)
Delaware: The state House of Representatives passed legislation that would expand vote by mail for the general election. (WDEL)
Georgia: A bill advanced in the House of Representatives that would prevent election officials from sending vote by mail applications to voters. (GPB News)
Pennsylvania: Legislators are considering a bill to allow officials to start counting ballots before Election Day. The governor signed legislation to require the Department of State to publish a report on the primary and identify problems ahead of November. (Penn Live, PA.gov)
New Mexico: The legislature approved a bill that would allow clerks to send absentee ballot applications to all registered voters, but not automatically send ballots themselves. (Santa Fe New Mexican)
South Carolina: The House of Representatives decided not to expand voting options for the general election, which may lead to lawsuits. (Post & Courier)
National: A Republican senator blocked legislation to expand early voting and the amount of time for mail ballots to be counted. (The Hill)
The Latest Election Lawsuits
Arkansas: Voters filed a lawsuit demanding no-excuse absentee voting during the general election. (Arkansas Times)
Connecticut: A group of Republicans filed a lawsuit claiming the secretary of state’s plan for expanding absentee voting is unconstitutional. (Fox 61)
Florida: The governor asked the court of appeals to put a hold on a ruling that lets felons vote. Meanwhile, a federal judge denied requests for injunctions to expand mail voting, and said that requiring postage for mail ballots is not a poll tax. (Tampa Bay Times, News Service of Florida)
Kansas: The ACLU sued the secretary of state asking to disclose the names of voters who voted by provisional ballot in 2018. (AP)
Louisiana: A judge threw out a lawsuit challenging the secretary of state’s emergency voting plan. (AP)
Minnesota: The secretary of state said absentee ballot witness requirements will be waived for the August primary; two judges recently ruled differently on the issue. (Star Tribune)
Missouri: The state Supreme Court sent a case over expanding vote by mail back to a circuit court. (Missourinet)
Pennsylvania: Citing problems during the primary, the NAACP sued the state demanding a variety of changes for the general election, ranging from more polling places to sending mail ballots to all voters. (Philadelphia Inquirer)
Tennessee: The state Supreme Court said it wouldn’t block a ruling to allow for the expansion of vote by mail ahead of the state’s August primary. (AP)
Wisconsin: A progressive group filed a lawsuit over voter ID requirements for college students; two other lawsuits are languishing in the courts. (Wisconsin Watch)
The latest lawsuits, cybersecurity issues, and vote by mail.
This article is part of Electionland, ProPublica’s collaborative reporting project covering problems that prevent eligible voters from casting their ballots during the 2020 elections.
The Postal Service Is Steadily Getting Worse — Can It Handle a National Mail-In Election?
Postal delays and mistakes have marred primary voting, and after years of budget cuts and plant closures, mail delivery has slowed so much that ballot deadlines in many states are no longer realistic. Read the story.
Georgia Election Aftermath
The secretary of state announced proposals to prevent a repeat of the chaotic June 9 primary, but said the state would not send absentee ballot applications to every registered voter in the fall like it did for the primary. One new measure would assign a technician to each polling place to offer technical support. (Atlanta Journal-Constitution, GPB News)
The state extended the amount of time voters have to correct signature problems on mail ballots, giving them three business days from the time they’re notified. (CNN)
Voter turnout tripled compared to the 2016 primary. (NBC News)
In the wake of the election, celebrity chef José Andrés said he’d give food and water to voters waiting in long lines in November, and basketball star LeBron James teamed up with other athletes and entertainers to start a voting rights group. (Fox 5, The New York Times)
An NAACP-organized protest convened hundreds who marched in Atlanta to demand criminal justice and voting reforms. (GPB News)
The Latest on Vote by Mail
Michigan voters can now request an absentee ballot online. Last week, a group of Trump supporters burned absentee ballot applications during a protest. (MLive, The Detroit News)
Hawaii, which has a robust vote by mail system, is holding its first all-mail election in August, with “voting service centers” in lieu of traditional polling places. (Hawaii News Now)
Almost half a million New York City voters requested absentee ballots ahead of the June primary, but some haven’t received their ballots yet. (Gothamist)
The Wisconsin Elections Commission agreed to send absentee ballot request forms to most registered voters ahead of November 3. (Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel)
The District of Columbia will send all registered voters a mail ballot in the fall. (DCist)
Because of the delays in counting mail ballots, experts warn it’s unlikely we’ll know the result of the presidential election on election night. (NPR)
Coronavirus Impact Continues
Jefferson County, home to Louisville, has a single polling site open for early voting and on Election Day next week — an exposition center. “I think it’s going to work,” the county clerk said. “And maybe I’ll just have to eat my words, but we’ll see.” Meanwhile, a pending lawsuit calls for more polling locations. (WLKY)
The government of Kentucky is supplying masks, face shields, hand sanitizer and gloves to all 120 counties for poll workers to use during the primary. (Paintsville Herald)
After months of requests from election supervisors, Florida’s governor issued an emergency order giving them some flexibility to address pandemic-related problems in holding elections in August and November. (Tampa Bay Times, Miami Herald)
Alaska will hold two statewide elections and one round of local elections in the coming months, but it also has an acute shortage of poll workers. In Anchorage, 95% of the municipality’s regular election workers decided not to participate this year. (Anchorage Daily News)
Minnesota is facing a poll worker shortage ahead of elections in August and November. (Mankato Free Press)
Several North Dakota election officials quit while counting ballots because some workers refused to wear masks. (Valley News Live)
The Brennan Center published a state-by-state resource guide on how elections will work during the pandemic. (Brennan Center)
The National Guard will assist with election cybersecurity assistance during the general election. The West Virginia Guard recently helped with cybersecurity protection during this month’s primary. (Bank Info Security, DVIDS)
A pilot program run by the Election Assistance Commission and the Center for Internet Security will scrutinize epollbook security, though it likely won’t issue a report until after the November election. (The Washington Post)
The Latest Lawsuits
Alabama: A judge lifted certain absentee and curbside voting restrictions during next month’s runoff election. (AL.com)
California: A district court judge temporarily halted the governor’s executive order on the number of in-person voting centers must be set up in each county. (CalMatters)
Florida: A federal judge denied the state’s motion for a stay on his order on felon voting rights. (Tampa Bay Times)
Minnesota: In settling two lawsuits, the state will not require a witness signature on absentee ballots for the August state primary, but the rule doesn’t apply to the general election. (Star Tribune)
Tennessee: A judge threatened to hold the state in contempt for not adhering to her order to allow mail-in voting for voters concerned about getting sick. (Newsweek)
Texas: The Texas Democratic Party asked the U.S. Supreme Court to weigh in on the case to expand vote by mail. (Texas Tribune)
Voting Legislation Updates
Illinois: The governor signed election bills this week that make Election Day a state holiday and require election officials to send absentee ballot applications to those who voted in recent elections. (Block Club Chicago)
Iowa: The legislature concluded its session and passed a budget bill that included language requiring voter ID for early voting. It also passed a bill to limit the secretary of state’s emergency powers. Meanwhile, legislators killed an amendment to enfranchise felons, but the governor promised to sign an executive order to enfranchise felons by the fall. (Des Moines Register, Radio Iowa, KCRG)
Massachusetts: The state Senate approved legislation to expand early voting and vote by mail, including sending an absentee ballot application to every voter. (Mass Live)
North Carolina: The governor signed legislation to expand vote by mail, fund public health measures for in-person voting and mail-in ballots will now require one witness signature instead of two. (News & Observer)
Ohio: Democrats in the state legislature came out against a bill stripped of amendments like allowing online absentee applications and more than one polling location per county. Meanwhile, the secretary of state says Ohio will send an absentee ballot application to all registered voters ahead of the general election. (Columbus Dispatch, Reuters)
Election News Grab Bag
Facebook will launch a “Voting Information Center” and aims to register 4 million voters before the general election. (The Wall Street Journal)
An effort coordinated by the Republican National Committee seeks 50,000 people to act as poll watchers during the general election. In some states, poll watchers can challenge a voter’s eligibility. (NBC News)
The influential Trump lawyer on the frontlines to limit who can vote this year was one of the lawyers involved in the Shelby County v. Holder landmark case that rolled back parts of the Voting Rights Act. (The New York Times)
The Southern Poverty Law Center will disburse $30 million in grants to nonprofits in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana and Mississippi to help mobilize voters of color. (NPR)
Trans and nonbinary voters face barriers to voting in states that require photo ID. (The Guardian)
ProPublica is a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative newsroom.
State Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas, is hoping his decades of experience at the Texas Capitol set him apart in the 2020 Democratic primary for U.S. Senate. Photo credit: Miguel Gutierrez Jr./The Texas Tribune
Royce West was not on the ballot in 2006, the year Democrats swept Dallas County and wrested a GOP stronghold into Democrats’ firm grip. But the longtime state senator still earned a spot onstage at the Adam’s Mark Hotel for the victory party, memorably mimicking a Johnny Carson golf swing and serving as hype man for the members of his party who joined him that night in elected office.
“All these Democrats,” he told winning candidates late that night, as favorable returns poured in, “they are fired up.”
And when a reporter turned to him, he summed it up nicely.
“Democrats have long been on the outside looking in,” West told The Dallas Morning News. “We now have the leadership of this county.”
Thirteen years ago, West was a pivotal player in a campaign to flip Dallas County the same way his party now hopes to flip Texas. This year, West aims to be on the ballot himself if the big swing comes, competing against Republican incumbent U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, who is expected to easily win his own primary. But first, West, the elder statesman in a crowded field with no clear front-runner, has to make it through the March 3 primary.
In 2006, West helped engineer a turnout machine that capitalized on demographic changes to the county, propelling Democrats to victory with the support of black and Hispanic voters. That strategy became a model for flipping other Texas districts and will undergird the Democratic approach in 2020. As he sprints toward this year’s primary, with early voting starting Feb. 18, the 27-year state senator said he’s looking back to 2006 for “the formula that it takes in order to get it done.”
“Look at Dallas County, and Harris County, which just turned blue. You’ve gotta be able to put together coalitions,” he said. “That’s the lesson that I’ve learned.”
The first clues that Dallas County might be ripe for a turnover came in 2004.
George W. Bush beat John Kerry there by nearly 10,000 votes, and Republican candidates for Railroad Commission and Texas Supreme Court won the county. But on the same election night, Dallas Democrat Lupe Valdez shocked the nation by becoming the first openly gay Hispanic woman elected sheriff in the United States. And more Democrats than Republicans pulled the straight-party lever to vote for every candidate on the party’s slate.
A small group of Democrats gathered at West’s law office and began to sketch plans, recalled Domingo Garcia, a former state representative from the area who is now the national president of League of United Latin American Citizens. (LULAC is neutral in the race.) Demographic shifts were benefitting Democrats as white people moved out of the county and black and Hispanic families moved in. The Democratic vote in the county had increased 2 points every election cycle since 1998, the party’s statisticians reported. If Democrats in 2006 could turn out unprecedented numbers of voters of color and build coalitions with white Democrats, they could seize control of the county.
According to interviews with five of the operation’s key players, West was a critical leader of the coordinated campaign, a “trusted messenger” to African American communities both inside and outside his South Dallas district, and a major credibility booster to donors who might otherwise have been skeptical of the effort’s viability. He went on the radio, appeared in television ads, attended church with the Democratic nominee for governor and sponsored fish fries.
“Royce had been an elected official in the area for a long time,” said Matt Angle, a Democratic operative who worked on the campaign. “He did enough work on television, got on the radio enough, that his voice had influence on African American voters beyond the boundaries of his district.”
After 5 p.m., West’s law office and others’ offices turned into phone banks. Volunteers stayed on the lines until 9 p.m., as Garcia recalled. They dialed up “people who had never been called before,” Garcia said — part of an effort to expand the Democratic base. Dozens of judicial candidates pooled resources to fund the campaign.
It was West’s idea, Garcia said, to bus voters straight from church to the polls — an effort that shot up turnout in African American and Hispanic communities on an early voting “Super Sunday.”
West spent thousands of his own campaign funds on a race he was not competing in. When donors were skeptical — could Dallas County ever go blue? — he vouched for the effort, securing crucial dollars.
And West, allies said, was determined to get out the vote in his own district — critical work that many politicians are unwilling to take on when their own seats are not at stake.
“If Royce West’s district did not turn out, we would not have gotten over the line. That’s a fact,” said Jane Hamilton, a Democratic consultant who led the effort.
The result: A Democrat, Jim Foster, won the county’s chief executive job; Dallas elected its first black district attorney, Democrat Craig Watkins, who wept before he took the stage on election night. Dozens of Democrats won benches from Republican judges. And West gained credibility as a political leader.
“He became the power broker of Dallas County,” Garcia said. “Everybody who was running statewide or countywide knew that they had to make a stop at Sen. West’s office. And his support could make you or break you in a countywide race.”
Now the North Texas kingmaker is leaning on those relationships and that record as he competes in his most difficult political fight in decades, battling 11 opponents for a chance to take on Cornyn. West’s team hopes name recognition and support in the Dallas area will get him to the May 26 runoff election, when the top two vote-getters from March’s primary will compete for the party’s nomination.
Coalition building defined West’s long political career. He has the endorsement of all but one of his Democratic Senate colleagues, as well as Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, who backed West as the “best choice not just for Houston, but for Texas” over a Houston City Council member and a former Houston congressman.
“My path is to make sure, No. 1, I unify African American and Latino voters in the state of Texas,” West said, harkening back to the approach that won his county in 2006. He cited an endorsement from the Texas Tejano Democrats and his top vote-getter status in a recent statewide poll conducted by the Texas Coalition of Black Democrats as evidence that he’s done that.
At the Texas Capitol, West muscled through funding for a new University of North Texas campus in South Dallas, the first public university in the area. He takes pride in a 2009 law that offers stipends to family members who take in children who would otherwise grow up in foster care and a measure establishing dash camera requirements for police officers.
All, he said, required building bipartisan coalitions in a GOP-dominated Legislature where Democrats’ priorities tend to flounder.
West’s challenge will be communicating those legislative achievements to the many voters who pay little attention to the Legislature. West, 67, is a moderate consensus builder at a time when some Texas Democrats want flame-throwers, and an elder statesman when many in his party are eager for new blood. He does not support a Green New Deal or mandatory gun buyback programs.
West said he is “not that person” who “throws bombs and hand grenades 24/7.”
“I’m more focused on getting things done,” he said. “No Democrat can win in Texas without being center-left.”
Polls show West toward the front of a still-shifting pack, though many primary voters remain undecided. He finished the most recent campaign finance reporting period with $526,000 cash on hand. That put him behind just one candidate, combat veteran MJ Hegar, who has positioned herself as the candidate to beat with a high-profile endorsement from the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.
West has often faced scrutiny for his business dealings. As an attorney in Dallas, West has made millions in legal fees representing public entities, including the school districts of Houston, Dallas and Crowley and the cities of Houston and Fort Worth, The Texas Tribune reported in September. In the Texas Senate, he is a leading Democrat on the education committee.
West insisted that his stature as a state senator does not make it easier to secure lucrative clients and said there are no conflicts of interest between his public office and private business.
For now, West is busy crisscrossing the state, including stops in rural areas that rarely hear from Democrats. If he is to win in November, the independent and moderate Republican voters he seeks to bring out will form an important part of his coalition.
But first, he needs to secure Democratic support broad and deep enough to propel him to victory statewide for the first time.
Garcia said the senator’s chances are good.
“If he gets to the runoff, I think he’s the nominee,” Garcia said. “If he’s able to consolidate his North Texas base and expand into other urban areas like Houston, Austin and San Antonio, then I think he will lock it up.”
Disclosure: The University of North Texas has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune’s journalism. Find a complete list of them here.
The Rev. Alvin Herring speaks during a demonstration calling for increased funding for public schools, Thursday, Aug. 22, 2013, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)
For the Rev. Alvin Herring, executive director of the congregation-based organizing network Faith in Action, wearing a clerical collar is about more than appearances. It prepares him for the task of making social change.
“I consider this my uniform,” Herring said, gesturing toward his white-collar as he addressed the crowd at the Vote Common Good summit in Des Moines, Iowa, earlier this month. “When I’m ready to go to work or go to war, I put this on.”
Specifically, Herring, a pastor from California, says he and his organization are gearing up for work and war — metaphorically speaking — ahead of the 2020 election. Through partnerships with groups such as VCG and a series of organizing initiatives, Herring and Faith in Action — one of the largest faith-based liberal-leaning groups in the country — are hoping to prove that people of faith can make an impact come Election Day.
Or, as Herring later told Religion News Service: “The progressive community has to get it straight: Faith matters.”
Faith in Action, previously known as PICO National Network, is hardly new to the art of national organizing. The multifaith, multiracial group boasts 45 member organizations spread across 200 cities and towns in 25 states. Each organization claims the membership of multiple worship communities of various sizes dedicated to advocating for certain policies and legislation.
The group tries to avoid political labels, but Herring acknowledged in an interview with RNS that the positions his group advocates for often lean away from the current Republican Party.
“Our everyday work is about fighting for immigrant justice,” he said. “Our everyday work is about returning to citizens the right to vote and the right of personhood. … Our everyday work is with young people who are saddled under the significant and heavy weight of education debt and a lack of economic mobility.”
Faith in Action has mustered robust campaigns in the past. Recent efforts include rallying faith groups behind prison reform in California and equitable funding for public education in Pennsylvania. They often tie their campaigns to bigger elections: According to Herring, Faith in Action teams contacted roughly 800,000 voters ahead of the 2018 midterm elections.
But this year they’re hoping to ramp up efforts to maximize their impact. For example, Faith in Action is now pushing to have 1 million conversations with voters before November.
The group has also forged partnerships with national-level organizations that Herring described as being part of an “ecosystem” of change. This includes the W.K. Kellogg Foundation — where Herring previously worked as the director for racial equity and community engagement — which in turn partners with the NAACP, Urban League, UnidosUS, National Congress of American Indians, Demos, Advancement Project, Race Forward and the Asian and Pacific Islander American Health Forum.
A Faith in Action spokesperson described the partnership as designed to “promote racial equity, advance racial healing and ensure that all children, families and communities have genuine opportunities to reach their full potential.”
Faith in Action also has a separate relationship with VCG, a new group led by progressive evangelical Christians that helps train Democratic candidates to engage with faith and offers outreach to liberal-leaning religious voters. The two organizations have entered into a formal memorandum of understanding, allowing VCG to benefit from Faith in Action’s network of worship communities.
VCG executive director Doug Pagitt told the crowd in Des Moines that Faith in Action will bolster his organization’s ongoing bus tour across the country.
“Oftentimes, when we go into a state or a city, we will tie into that (Faith in Action) network,” Pagitt said. “It’s a great gift.”
But Herring argued the real goal is to effect local politics. Instead of focusing solely on the presidential election, he said, Faith in Action plans to target sheriff’s races across the country — particularly in the South — because the position is “one of the most powerful” when it comes to impacting the lives of marginalized communities. They hope their member communities will push for candidates who will institute more liberal approaches to policing, incarceration and gun violence.
Faith in Action is also launching a “Setting the Captives Free” initiative — a reference to the Book of Exodus — that strives to push back against policies such as voter ID laws that Herring argued disproportionately disenfranchise people of color.
Organizers plan to discuss these and other issues at Faith in Action’s National Faith Forum Feb. 12-14. According to the event flier, leaders will gather in Las Vegas to discuss strategy, unveil a “People’s Platform” and dialogue with 2020 candidates and their policy staffs.
It’s unclear how well Faith in Action’s approach will work. Despite its size, the group’s hyperlocalized structure can make progress difficult to track, and Herring did not offer many specifics as to how the campaigns will be implemented at the local level.
But he said he is confident the efforts will have some impact on the lives of everyday Americans, a shift he hopes will send a message to more secular-minded liberals.
“I would say one other thing to the progressive community: It will have to come off the fence,” he told RNS. “It can’t have a deep aversion for faith on the right and a lack of commitment for faith in other places. It’s not enough to decry those who stand with an administration that is literally trying to suck the lives out of everyday working people, and yet say nothing about those hardworking men and women of faith who are every day in the streets, every day in the soup kitchens, every day in clothes pantries, every day in the voting booth — voting their faith principles and their faith guidelines.”