As Stacey Abrams fights for every vote, Democrat John Barrow fights to replace Brian Kemp and save democracy

Stacey Abrams’ tireless post-Election Day campaign to get every possible vote in Georgia counted isn’t just about trying to win the governorship today. Her fight is also exposing the true breadth of the damage done to the state’s democracy by her opponent, former Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp.

We knew about the 1.6 million voters he erased from the system over his two terms, the largest such purge in American history. We knew about the ridiculous lawsuit he filed days before the election. We knew about the over 50,000 people he wanted to ban from voting with trapdoor inanities. And on Election Day, we saw how he abused voters by throttling the number of voting machines in largely minority districts. Now comes word about the absentee ballots sent out late by his office, his efforts to throw out provisional ballots, and Kemp’s continued legal battles against counting votes.

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Races for progressives to watch on Election Day

Here we are, two days out from the most important election of our lifetimes, which is a statement that is eminently dramatic but somehow undersells the gravity of what we are facing. I truly don’t know what American democracy will look like if Democrats don’t sweep up at the ballot box on Tuesday. And it’s not just because of the threat posed by Trump and his sycophantic posse. All across the country, there are pitched battles being fought over issues that directly touch the lives of tens of millions of people — and will, more broadly, impact us all.

Here is a guide to the biggest issues and races to watch on what will be a very nerve-wracking, exciting Tuesday evening.

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How to vote early and help end voter disenfranchisement

Election Day is technically on November 6th, but in many states across the country, voting has already begun — and in too many states, some people won’t be able to vote at all.

Early voting is an underutilized tool that can be incredibly beneficial to Democrats. The process varies from state to state, but voting casting a ballot in the weeks leading up to Election Day helps ensure a maximum number of votes, shortens lines at the polls for everyone else, and makes getting out the vote on November 6th that much easier.

There’s a reason why Republicans have sought to curtail early voting in so many states: it has historically been utilized most by working people and minorities.

Voting early helps strengthen democracy. If you’re interested in finding out if your state has opened early voting yet (or when it might start), Vote.org and the New York Times have you covered.

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Ballot initiatives: Secrets of the most successful progressive strategy in years

Election night 2016 was a nightmare for progressives (and really most Americans), but there was one somewhat surprising and very promising bright spot. Ballot measures pushed by progressive groups were approved by huge margins by voters across the country, resulting in increased minimum wages, expanded Medicaid, and other big policy victories in both blue and red states.

Amazing what happens when the issues are clear and voters are offered a direct chance to improve their lives.

This year, with Republicans dominating government on all level, progressive groups have doubled down on direct democracy to push or fix important policies that corrupt conservatives (and to be fair, many Democrats) have either ignored or openly and cravenly blocked from passing. And as we saw in the massive victory for repealing the toxic “right to work for less” law in Missouri, these are very popular and winnable campaigns.

We’ve covered the red state progressive activists that have gathered enough signatures to get Medicaid expansion on the ballot in Montana, Idaho, and Utah, and there are also a slate of people-powered initiatives that would end gerrymandering in states like Michigan, loosen marijuana laws in Missouri, and fix housing issues in California.  To learn more about the upcoming voter initiatives, Progressives Everywhere spoke with Donna De La Cruz, the communications director for the Ballot Initiative Strategy Center, which helps progressives nationwide launch and strategize direct democracy.

How did a state like Missouri, which is becoming a very red state, vote so overwhelmingly for “right to work” repeal?

For some people just certain issues sort of transcend parties. I think minimum wage is one. With something like the measure in Missouri to repeal the “right to work” law, if it’s messaged right and the public is educated correctly, that makes all the difference.

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Why don’t Democrats start campaigning on obviously popular issues? If they see so many people voting to increase the minimum wage, why not champion that, use that language?

Some lawmakers definitely see how powerful ballot measures are. But I think mostly with candidates they don’t really don’t focus on the issues until they see enough polling to see where it’s going to throw their support behind it, which is, which is too bad. They just sort of wait to see how the winds are gonna blow. But I think there are just some initiatives that people just really feel that they want and need. I think the one thing about ballot initiatives is that they’re often not thought of as being partisan.

Definitely right to work was partisan, but things like minimum wage, a lot of people just see it as extra money in their paychecks and not having all the money go to big corporations.

So what does BISC do, as a centralized strategy operation for progressive ballot measures?

We track new track statewide initiatives all year long and we update the list every two weeks. We do a lot of trainings where one of our staffers will go and talk to a group, working them through how the process works. The ballot process works differently in every state.

Sometimes it has to be done through a constitutional amendment. Sometimes you can collect signatures. Sometimes it has to be referred by the legislature. So there are all these different methods and people have to know exactly what the process is. If it’s collecting signatures, they need to know just how many they’re going to need and how many they need from different counties, because you can’t get all the signatures from one area. It’s got to be statewide.

You need to know the cost, like how much manpower do you think you’re going to need? It’s making sure that they are aware that this is not something that can happen quickly in most cases. You have to try to figure out what kind of support you have for it. To see if you can win, but even before you can win, if you can even collect enough signatures to start really campaigning. So there’s a lot of those. We do a lot of those, you know, we do a lot of educational trainings along those lines.

CLICK HERE to donate to campaigns working hard to pass progressive ballot initiatives!

I know that there have been more lawsuits over ballot measures and lawmakers, especially in GOP states, often don’t comply — see Maine and Medicaid — or repeal the measures, right?

Some states are fighting back to keep measures off ballots. North Carolina [Republicans are trying to trick voters into curtailing voting rights] and Michigan’s minimum wage initiative is in court. In Massachusetts, there’s a ballot measure to overturn the state’s anti-discrimination law against transgender people. Even in DC, it’s an example of a pretty heavily Democratic City Council that is trying to overturn a ballot measure that was approved in June during the primary election that would raise the minimum wage for tipped workers. It passed pretty overwhelmingly, but the DC City Council has introduced legislation that would undo it.

Some of these measures are launched by citizens, but there are often big campaigns around them, like in Missouri. What kind of bigger groups have you seen organizing these measures?

There are a couple of climate groups out west that we’re really not a part of, like NextGen. The Restaurant Opportunities group is active in a couple of states to raise the minimum wage. Definitely some unions support paid sick leave and raising the minimum wage as well. It’s a huge variety of groups. There are some really small groups. There’s a group in Florida, we’re really helping them with restoring the right to vote for former felons. That’s Second Chances Florida. They were formed solely to get this amendment on the ballot and then get it passed in Florida.

What kind of legwork does it take to get something on the ballot? How long does it usually take?

I’ll just give you an example. In Washington state, there’s an initiative on the ballot to tax polluters who emit fossil fuels and then they would use that money for clean jobs. That has been discussed for at least at least a couple of years before they even tried to put it on the ballot. I know that it was still being discussed like two years ago, just trying to generate the support and trying to figure out the educational campaign for that. Because that’s a tough one because the average citizen probably never even thinks about a carbon tax.

And I know that with the Florida initiative, you take some polls just to see like what the sentiment is among the residents, whether or not people do agree that ex-felons should be given the right to vote. So it’s a lot of education and just research first.

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Florida has a fully Republican state government. Let’s say Democrats flip a lot of legislatures and governorships this year and win power in a lot more states. How do you see ballot measures playing a role in an environment that’s more friendly to the issues they are working to pass?

I would definitely hope that it would be seen as a good leverage tool for citizens. The teachers in Arizona that went on strike earlier this year to get a raise in pay have really banded together to get an education measure on the ballot that would tax the wealthiest people in Arizona and use that money to pay for education. I know that banding together to raise their own pay gave them this idea. But it has not been popular at all. It just survived a legal challenge this week.

So getting all those signatures to get on the ballot definitely doesn’t always mean it’s super-popular or is going to pass.

I think sometimes just because it’s on the ballot, there’s a lot of education that needs to be done. There’s a measure on the Ohio ballot that would affect nonviolent drug offenders and I think that they barely got the number of signatures that they needed to get to get on the ballot. So I think that there’s still a lot of work there.

And people think that ballot measures are just really poorly worded, which they are, and the groups don’t write the ballot language. It’s the secretary of state’s offices and sometimes lawmakers start chiming in. So sometimes it makes no sense, so even if it’s really popular and on the ballot, it can be confusing to people and it’s always the last item on a ballot. So people might have supported it had they known it or if it had a different title or was just easier to read.

CLICK HERE to donate to campaigns working hard to pass progressive ballot initiatives!

What are the kinds of ballot measures you’re seeing the most this year?

Over the last year or two, the minimum wage has still been up there, but this year, we’re seeing a lot of gerrymandering initiatives. In most instances, redistricting is only done every 10 years, so it’s really interesting to see the number of gerrymandering initiatives on there to take the power away from partisan groups and give them to an independent commission. I think that’s a really interesting one to watch.

There’s not as much paid sick leave on the ballot statewide as I think people would have hoped. And I think some people are surprised that there’s not very many gun control measures on the ballot, especially given the shooting at the high school in Florida. Our take is that it was just too quick, there wasn’t enough time for people for people to get the measures on the ballot this year.

People have been really pressuring legislators on guns — maybe they don’t realize that ballot measures can be used for even that issue.

I think more people are definitely seeing the usefulness of ballot measures. I just think sometimes it’s a daunting task, especially if we want to do it statewide. But I think it’s all about educating people and getting the word out.

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Iowa has a chance for a total Blue Wave

There’s a lot of insane things happening in America right now. Attacks on abortion rights. Voting rights at risk. Trade wars. Nazi sympathizers in office. And Iowa, the quiet heartland right smack in the middle of the country, is dealing with all of it.

What happens in Iowa this November will have an outsized impact on the rest of us. So let’s start with good news: While the last few years have seen Republicans play every angle and pull every nasty trick in their Jim Crow 2.0 playbook to disenfranchise voters, a judge delivered some good news for democracy (and Democrats) in Iowa on Thursday. In a crucial ruling, an injunction was placed on the state’s controversial Voter ID law, suspending the discriminatory practice and restoring the 11 days of early voting that the legislature eliminated last fall.

It was a major setback for Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate, an old-school, corrupt creature of whatever would you’d call the cornfield-equivalent of the swamp in Des Moines. A few hours after the ruling, I hopped on the phone with Deidre DeJear, a former Obama campaign coordinator who is now the Democratic nominee challenging Pate this November.

“He commissioned this bill, then turned it over to a senator and they put it through committee and ended up passing it,” DeJear said, putting the onus directly on the man she is trying to unseat. “This is his baby and this is what he’s been working on for a while in our state. He hasn’t been promoting voting.”

CLICK HERE to donate to Deidre DeJear via Progressives Everywhere’s ActBlue page

Encouraging the electorate is engrained in her, as DeJear has been working to turn out votes since childhood. That’s not hyperbole — as a kid, she was drafted to help on her grandmother’s campaign for election commissioner of Yazoo County in Mississippi.

It should be noted that, when she was a kid knocking on doors for her grandma, Pate was being called a “big league sleaze” by political columnists in Des Moines. He’s made a habit of corruption and lying — just this spring he called an AP investigation into oversights in his financial disclosures “fake news,” before later adjusting those documents to account for millions of dollars in undisclosed property.

DeJear, meanwhile, has made a career out of helping small businesses. She was just out of college, working in the marketing department of a small local bank when the 2008 recession hit and wiped out the livelihoods of millions of Americans. People were laid off en masse and many felt forced to start their own businesses, and came to the bank looking for guidance.

So DeJear ultimately left to start her own company, which helps to launch and market new small businesses. The Secretary of State in Iowa also has a heavy hand in small business administration, another reason she wants to win the job.

“We have over 260,000 small businesses in our state and they provide jobs for about 50 percent of the workforce, so I want to make sure that whatever economic trials and tribulations come through the path of Iowa that our small business owners are going to weather that storm,” she said. “I remember in 2008 to 2010, there were just so many dilapidated buildings and empty storefronts. Now that they’re filled back up, I don’t want to fall by the wayside again. We’re also trying to further develop and redevelop rural Iowa, and rural Iowa isn’t too good right now, especially in light of all Trump’s trade war stuff, so we need to make sure that they’re getting resources.”

Her adult political career started around the same time as her formative business experience. While attending Drake University, DeJear helped organize students for then-Senator Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign. She took on a bigger role with his re-election campaign four years later.

“When 2012 came along, I walked into the office to volunteer and a couple of weeks later it became a full-time job,” DeJear, who now works as a small business consultant, remembered. “I traveled throughout the state. I was African-American vote director that year and my job was to get African-Americans engaged in the process because we knew by and large the African-American supported the President, but that didn’t necessarily translate into a vote.”

Her plan, a combination of canvassing and active citizen-to-citizen lobbying, helped increase the minority share of the vote in lily-white Iowa from 3% in 2008 to 7% in 2012 — crucial to a smaller margin of victory for Obama in his second go-round.

Five years later, as Pate pushed the law in the legislature, he promised that it would not make voting more difficult for Iowans. That was, as everyone knew at the time, a blatant lie. Beyond the fact that voter fraud is almost non-existent, which negates the cynical rationale for the measure, national statistics make clear just how much these laws deter eligible voters from casting ballots — even when they do show up to the polls with all their proper paperwork. And in Iowa, it quickly became clear during local and primary elections that the Voter ID law was the equivalent of scattering roadblocks and car wrecks across a highway and suggesting that people were still free to drive.

Clearing the path to voting isn’t enough. To exhaust the metaphor, DeJear is focused on getting more people actively on the road to the polls.

“We also have 2.3 million people eligible to vote, but only 1.9 million registered,” she said. “So we’ve got about 400,000 folks that are just kinda out there in limbo and he’s not really doing much to engage them either. So there’s a lot of work that can be done in that office to increase voter turnout.”

CLICK HERE to donate to Deidre DeJear via Progressives Everywhere’s ActBlue page

Pate promises to fight to make voting harder all the way to the Iowa Supreme Court, while DeJear’s plan to handle voter rights and election administration is fundamentally different. It comes down to a very simple philosophical difference: Unlike Pate, DeJear actually wants more people to vote and participate in the system. Headlining her agenda is automatic voter registration, a progressive policy that’s grown more popular over the last few years as Democrats have woken up to the importance of voting rights and expanding the electorate.

“Right now, when you go to the DMV, if you’re getting your driver’s license renewed or getting your ID renewed, you have to ask about applying to register to vote,” she said. “The situation that I would prefer is that people, if they’re eligible to vote, they’re automatically registered, and if they want to opt out, they can.”

In states that have implemented automatic voter registration, the rate at which citizens registered to vote increased dramatically. Anything that gets people out of the DMV faster is a public service — adding voting rights to the equation is nearly saintly.

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So, why should you care?

Iowa is traditionally a swing state, but in recent years has tacked to the right, like many states in which Democrats largely abandoned their political infrastructure after 2012. And thanks to both that rightward shift and Democrats’ grassroots resurgence, the state has suddenly become a microcosm of the national political environment. For a landlocked, largely rural state, it’s got an astonishing number of issues at play.

The ballot will be crowded in the state this year. Along with the Secretary of State race, Iowa plays host to a gubernatorial election and what should be a number of very tight races in a GOP-controlled state legislature that is close enough that it could tip back to Democrats in a wave election. Wresting some control of the state will be critical to stopping a return of the medieval anti-abortion law that the GOP passed there this spring; it was quickly blocked by a judge, but as of now, GOP leadership plans on taking it all the way to a Supreme Court that may be far more conservative in just a few months.

Iowa is also home to Steve King, one of the most racist congressmen in the country (we profiled his challenger several weeks ago), and is being hit particularly hard by Trump’s trade war, which could begin to loosen rural voters’ entrenched support of the GOP. Maximizing voter turnout this year and going forward is absolutely crucial — and having a Secretary of State that actually cares about voter rights is an essential part of that.

With the legislature up for grabs, DeJear also recommended two other candidates running in the state this November.

Lindsay James is a first-time candidate who is running in Iowa House District 99, which is currently held by Abby Finkenauer, who is running for Congress (her name may sound familiar, as Progressives Everywhere endorsed her months ago). James is a college chaplain whose faith inspires her progressive beliefs and community service. Her resume is incredibly impressive and frankly makes me feel lazy; James serves as the Director of the Loras College Peace Institute, chair of the Community Development Advisory Board, elected county official and a board member for the NAACP and the Children of Abraham. She has endorsed Medicare for All.

Jackie Smith is a retired speech pathologist who is running for State Senate after over 30 years of serving her Sioux City community in the classroom. She now owns a small store in Sioux City and served eight years on the County Board of Supervisors, and is very focused on both education and job training. Smith is running in District 7, which was already considered a top pickup opportunity before its Republican incumbent retired.

Progressives Everywhere has already endorsed Iowa’s Democratic candidate for governor, Fred Hubbell, whose election should help squelch the battle over that awful abortion law.

CLICK HERE to donate to Lindsay James, Jackie Smith, Deidre DeJear, and Fred Hubbell via Progressives Everywhere’s ActBlue page