A Progressive’s Lament: Surrendering Down-Ballot Guidance

In one 24 hour period this past week I contacted the former treasurer of the DNC, a top researcher in a digital analytics company, a rep of National Indivisible and the co-founder of the Open Source Election Technology Institute. Their input underscores something irrefutable: THERE WILL BE NO PROGRESSIVE DOWN-BALLOT GUIDANCE IN ALL 50 STATES this election cycle. To this activist, that’s more than a shame and it underlines a lesson about electoral intelligence. This could have been done if it began when the CARES Act was passed, without postal or mailed-ballot funding. There will be ad hoc efforts in blue zones like California and some advice will go down to local judges. But voters with liberal proclivities in states from New York to Nevada will have to wing it when it comes to Assembly reps (the people who draw electoral district maps) or Sheriffs (who decide if Uncle Jeff eats or not while in for DUI) or the DA (who decides whether to let Jeff walk or walk the plank).

It’s disappointing and a major miss by outfits like Indivisible which have unique ability to gather and disseminate candidate data in every state. Indivisible activists might even be able to reach into most of the 3,141 counties in the US. But that won’t happen because they don’t have the informational goods.

To do this job requires serious local intelligence in every state and every large county. The advice on who’s who has to be funneled into some sort of data structure that can be accessed by a higher tier of analysts and advisors. There final decisions about who gets a gold star and who doesn’t get made. The data, curated, color-coded and graphically organized then would be shoved back down into local hands. So folks in Ames, Iowa, have a clue who might make a good Assembly rep, State Senator, judge, sheriff or DA.

I’m at peace now, knowing there’s no hope. It’s OK. We’ll muddle through here, as in so many other aspects of this fraught election. But as in bigger matters of law and policy, we’re not going to ignore the lessons just learned and we will turn them into code and law, with electoral procedural preferences mostly into code.

In 2022 I believe there will be a mechanism for doing what we failed to do this time: guide voters to detailed data on folks in every race at every level. It’ll take less time to fix this than it will to unspool the 51 bowls of electoral spaghetti that now grace the groaning table of democracy. 70% of voters could do mail-in, and 30% will vote in person using black box systems immune from verification. Just a few days from now widespread voting begins.

This will be a ride to remember. It may resemble the old roller-coaster in Coney Island. Clanking up a wooden ziggurat, rattling and shaking with little reason to hope we’ll make it. But we will. However, let’s reconsider our tolerance for risk in this crucial domain.

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