What a week...

And it's not even over yet. Remember Rule 1: It will get crazier.

Friends —

So much to say… where to begin? John Lewis, Bill Barr, Tech Monopolies, President wants to delay the election… and that’s just the last 72 hours. To quote V.I. Lenin: “There are decades where nothing happens; and there are weeks where decades happen.”

I’ve got a lot in this email: a deep dive into voter registration, where I’m giving my money for maximum impact, my assessment of the competitive Senate races, and then finally a short PS on Biden’s VP pick. But before I go through all that, I have to reference two of my prior emails:

And now on to our regularly scheduled programming.

Voter registration: Thanks to the structure of the electoral college, a Biden victory requires overwhelming turnout in a handful of states. But turnout has always been unpredictable -- and in COVID-land, all bets are off. 

The year started off with voter registration looking like gangbusters. But now “...it is hard to overstate just how underwater voter registration is…." To quote the Oracle of FiveThirtyEight: “Poll after poll showed a high level of enthusiasm for voting in the general election in 2020, and in the beginning of the year, voter registration surged to match that excitement. Then the COVID-19 pandemic hit. New registrations have fallen off a cliff.” [source]

It’s clear that coronavirus already has and will continue to affect voter registration, especially in communities of color. We just don’t know how this will effect who actually votes. Not to mention all the contortions in certain states to make it harder to vote, especially if you’re from a community of color. Just today, former President Barack Obama’s speech at John Lewis’ funeral is almost exclusively about voting (and worth watching in full) but this quote stood out:

“…Even as we sit here, there are those in power who are doing their darnedest to discourage people from voting by closing polling locations and targeting minorities and students with restrictive ID laws and attacking our voting rights with surgical precision, even undermining the postal service in the run-up to an election that’s going to be dependent on mail-in ballots so people don’t get sick…”

What to do about it? Generally speaking, I prefer to give my money to local leaders and local organizations. My big-picture view of what’s wrong with America is that everything is too big, too national. Supporting local leaders and local groups helps to build more resilient civic and political culture in communities, with benefits and impact long after the election has passed. Moreover, if the election is going to get “screwed up”, it’s likely to start in some specific locales. Plus, national groups tend not to understand the dynamics on the ground and get obsessed with their own priorities -- which are not always in sync with what’s needed on the ground. One-size-fits-all rarely works in local electoral contexts. 

We need vibrant local democracy to have vibrant national democracy. But how to find the local leaders? I’ve chosen two priorities for my time and money:

  1. The Democratic Party of Wisconsin: Three years ago, my old friend Ben Winkler left a promising career in Washington DC to move with Beth (his wife) and three young children back home to Wisconsin. He understood that the Democratic Party infrastructure in Wisconsin had atrophied and needed to be rebuilt from the ground up. He became the head of the Democratic Party of Wisconsin and has been making all the right moves over the last couple of years: attracting top talent; building impressive data and digital infrastructure; supporting local leaders to have real grassroots turnout power. I wish all the state parties had young, dynamic leaders like him. You can read more about his work in this New York Times article:  “Look to Wisconsin for Lessons on a Digital Campaign During a Pandemic.” Pretty much any way you cut it, the 2020 election goes through Wisconsin. If you’re going to give more than a couple hundred bucks, email me. You can give online here.

  2. The National Conference on Citizenship: Essentially, NCoC finds local leaders invested in the long-term civic health of their communities and figures out how to help them get what they need (including money). Through programs like the Civic Health Index, Students Learn Students Vote, Getting to Full Participation, Local Democracy Fellows, and more, NCoC identifies local organizations doing important work around voter registration, voter participation, and improving local civic infrastructure. Once identified, NCoC works to get those local leaders the help they need to succeed -- including a lot of subgrants to get funds to those local leaders. (In full disclosure, I was the interim CEO of NCoC last summer.) If you’re going to give more than a couple hundred bucks, email me. You can give online here

If you want to give directly to candidates, I first recommend finding at least two local candidates in your community to support. Start in your own backyard. (Here are my “backyard” races.) Nationally, I’m focused on one House race and four Senate races (IA, GA, NC, SC). The Senate is as important as the White House. I created this page where whatever you donate will be split evenly between the five races I think matter. How did I pick those Senate races? I thought you’d never ask! I’ve spent the last two weeks reviewing everything (fundraising disclosures, social media, polling) and talking to people on the ground in many of the competitive Senate races. If you want to wade through my state-by-state Senate assessment, I’ve published it online here

I’ve got some more updates I’m working on, including a “doomsday scenarios” assessment -- how worried should we be? But for now, it’s time for my evening martini.

Lots of love, nicco

PS. Oh, Biden’s VP pick? I don’t care. Vice presidential candidates have zero impact on elections.