Running for local office isn’t easy. Amanda Gonzalez is a Democratic Candidate for Jefferson County (Colo.), Clerk and Recorder. She remembers how she plotted to defeat the 2020 election when things get tough.
“When I’m downtrodden, when something isn’t going the way I thought it would, that is a huge part of my everyday thought,” says Gonzalez, 37. “There is a set of people who will actively try to undermine or destroy our democracy.”
Gonzalez, the Colorado Common Cause executive director, has focused much of her career on policy regarding state voting rights. Many of her work was focused on reforms to be implemented by local election clerks, which included major non-partisan election protection efforts in 2018 und 2020. When the Jefferson County Clerk and Recorder—the official in charge of elections in the county—decided not to run again, Gonzalez decided to run for the post herself. “If it’s not me, it’s bad actors,” she says.
Gonzalez is referring to the grassroots right-wing campaign to install election deniers—MAGA hardliners who trumpet former President Donald Trump’s lie that the 2020 presidential election was stolen—in positions that oversee elections at the state and local levels. Inspired by Steve Bannon’s so-called “precinct strategy,” far-right activists have flooded local precincts, signed up en masse to be poll workers, and orchestrated harassment of existing officials.
Election deniers also win nominations to key roles in the GOP for election-related positions in swing states. States United Action (a nonpartisan, nonprofit dedicated to protecting elections) has data showing that 13 election-deniers have run in 11 states to be Attorney General. 19 others are running to become Secretary of State in fifteen states. 25 other election deniers ran in the 15 state governor’s races. In 2022, more than one-third (or three quarters) of Governor and Attorney General races include election deniers. More than half (or all of them) of Secretary of State candidates are embracing some version of the Big Lie.
Many Democrats are concerned that the party’s national party is not able to mount an effective counter-campaign. The Democratic-aligned So Run or Something (RFS) has taken the lead. It recruits, trains and supports young candidates for local and state offices. Initially formed after Trump’s election to encourage young people to run for state and local office, RFS now focusing much of its energy on recruiting and training pro-democracy candidates to run for often-obscure election positions across the country. So far, the group’s election official recruitment program, called Clerk Work, has recruited nearly 300 people to run for local offices that oversee elections, with 200 of those candidates in swing states like Michigan, Wisconsin, Colorado and Nevada.
“Steve Bannon and a huge part of the right is trying to get their people into these offices, and there needed to be a counterbalance to that,” says Ross Morales Rocketto, co-founder of Run for Something. “The biggest threat is that these folks get on the ballot and are unopposed.”
Continue reading: It’s been proved false that the Big Lie is a big lie. Republicans Can’t Shake It.
Run for Something’s Clerk Work is one of few programs focused on combating election denial on the local level, where elections are actually managed. These local offices are often filled during off-cycle elections and require complicated fundraising regulations. National groups find it difficult to target these races because of their complex rules. These often neglected tasks are even more important in 2020, when county clerks as well as other local officials will be the victims of much the harassment fueled the Big Lie.
This targeted harassment led to a large exodus. Therefore, recruitment efforts are crucial. According to a March survey by the Brennan Center for Justice, 1 in 5 local election officials say they’re “very” or “somewhat” unlikely to serve through 2024, and nearly 1 in 3 know another election worker who has left the field because of fears for their safety. More than half are concerned that new colleagues believe Trump’s lie that there was widespread voter fraud in the 2020 election. “We’re really on a precipice here,” says Tammy Patrick, senior advisor to the elections program at the Democracy Fund, a nonpartisan foundation confronting threats to American democracy.
Continue reading: The Secret History Of the Shadow Campaign Which Saved 2020 Election.
Run for Something has changed the focus of many of their efforts to recruit new workers for these critical jobs. Rocketto claims that donors are still open to supporting the project. The program’s fundraising has not been fast despite widespread concern about crumbling democratic institutions. “We could have done more if the funding had come in quicker,” he says.
Gonzalez thinks most people understand the importance of voting rights broadly, but says many voters still don’t understand the importance of their local election officials. “It is a little harder to convince them that their time, talent and treasure should be focused on the clerk race,” she says. “The time to fight for our democracy is now. It can’t just be a few lawyers or a few election officials. It really has to be all of us realizing how important this is.”
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