A ROADMAP TO WINNING TOWNSHIP ELECTIONS
By Reid McCollum
My first act in local politics was to attend a meeting of the DuPage Democrats on January 9, 2017 in Wheaton. I went because Trump was my President, and I was horrified beyond belief. I knew that working to defeat Peter Roskam was all I wanted to do for the next two years. I could tell that most of those in the room had the exact same thought.
I knew no one at that meeting and grabbed a seat in a very crowded auditorium. I happened to sit next to Sue Sitton. We got to chatting as the crowd packed into what was quickly becoming a standing-room only turnout. Sue mentioned the Downers Grove Township Democrats office, and within a week or two, I walked in and met Kim Savage. I left that same day with a turf to knock doors for local township candidates, and I simply couldn’t wait to talk to voters for the first time in my life.
We lost the closest township race that year by 2,147 votes, or 56% to 44%. In other words, even in the closest race, we got shellacked. But even that outcome at the time was huge progress in Downers Grove Township. Due to the hard work of those who laid a foundation over years of tireless work and zero reward, we fielded a candidate for each race and had an office to use as a base of operations.
Fast forward to the local elections two weeks ago. We lost the closest race by 663 votes, or 52% to 48% (as of this writing). Just 1,000 additional Democrats would have won nearly every contest. All this in a township that JB Pritzker lost 49% to 46% in the 2018 “blue wave” midterm elections.
Now for three hard truths:
- The majority of voters in our township consider themselves Republicans for state and local elections. I’ll repeat it: JB lost our township to one of America’s least popular governors during a blue wave election by 3%.
- Both parties have low turnout in local elections in our community, which is par for the course in almost every corner of the United States. It is useless to blame Democrats for not showing up for local races. Low turnout for local races has virtually nothing to do with party affiliation in our area. That’s not to say we can’t do something about it!
- Unfortunately though, closing a gap of 1,000 votes with a turnout strategy (versus persuasion), is more difficult than it may seem.
I’ll expand on 3) using data from meta-analyses published by the Analyst Institute, which is the leading progressive clearinghouse for randomized controlled experiments in political science.
Historically, it costs about $91,000 in field work to increase turnout by 1,000 votes in local elections. Voters who are contacted by canvassing, phone calls, or mail are roughly 0.9% more likely to vote. Using simple math, we must contact an additional 111,000 voters, often multiple times, in order to increase turnout by 1,000 votes. Therefore, 200,000 contacts might be a reasonable estimate of what it would take to get to 1,000 extra Democratic votes by turnout tactics alone.
It would be quite a stretch for our existing network of committed volunteers to make an additional 200,000 voter contacts. Not on our own. Not without bringing others off the sidelines and into the arena.
Yet I am confident that we can win local elections. Because bringing other Democrats off the sidelines to help make a difference is absolutely without a doubt something that we are capable of doing.
Most volunteers jump into local partisan politics and activism because they are motivated either by a candidate or a national race. I see volunteers every day at the Postcards to Swing States office who are deeply concerned about expanding the Democratic Senate majority and making sure the Democrats hold the House in 2022. Many of those volunteers—at least those who live in our township—are one ask away from agreeing to attend a DGTDO event. Or participate in a local recruitment canvass. Or maybe even run for local office.
There are many ways to get more of our fellow Democratic neighbors involved in winning local elections. But to paraphrase our outgoing and incredibly awesome Chair, Kim Savage, having the ideas isn’t the hard part. It’s showing up and doing the work. And the reason I’m hopeful about our prospects of winning the next township elections—all of them—is because showing up and doing the work is exactly what we Democrats are best at.
Let’s stay active and organize and recruit more volunteers! Fundraisers, candidate recruitment, PC recruitment, building our precinct and township email lists, hiring a full-time political organizer – WHO KNOWS! It’s time to stop bemoaning low Democratic turnout and wishing our way to victory if only Democrats magically voted at higher rates. It’s time to expand our volunteer base! I’m deeply grateful that Sue Sitton recruited me to DGTDO. Who are you going to recruit?