On June 6, the DC Democratic State Committee (DCDSC) held its June meeting in Ward 8.
The main items on the official June agenda were:
- Briefing from the Arlington Democrats
- Panel discussion on voter suppression and registration
- DCDSC strategic plan presentation
- Fair Elections resolution
- Update on DCDSC bylaws
The night started with opening remarks from Ward 8 leaders. We also swore in one new member to the DCDSC. Kareem McCray is the first-ever delegate from the Returning Citizens Caucus, a Democratic caucus group that we voted to establish ealier this year. Welcome, Kareem!
Arlington Dems Presentation
Programming began with the Arlington Democrats offering insights on how they run GOTV and poll greeter operations. I’d love to hear from rank-and-file Dems in Arlington, but based on the presentation, they would appear to have a well-oiled operation. A few examples: 1) they conduct a door-to-door lit drop of targeted Democratic households ahead of election time, deploying some 700 volunteers; and 2) they run a poll greeter operation that covers 54 precincts in two hour shifts with 700-800 poll greeters.
The DC Democratic Party hasn’t even begun to dream of an operation that expansive. I’m not sure if it’s a lack of an opposition party or something else, but we had trouble getting 16 of the 90+ members of the DCDSC (aka party leaders!) to even sign up for a phone call on voter outreach in the first four months of the year. Most of the more devoted electoral activists do their work through non-party organizations that they feel better express their politics, like DC for Democracy, DSA, or their local ward Democratic club.
That’s one reason I’ve pivoted to focus my work at home in Ward 4. My hope is that we can bridge the gap between the Ward 4 Democrats club and the progressive canvassing operations to build a model for voter engagement and turnout in 2020.
Panel Discussion on Voter Suppression and Registration
The Issues and Programming Committee organized this panel featuring Lakeila Stemmons of the National Voter Protection Action Fund; Jon Bosworth from the office of Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR); Latoia Jones of Hustle; Bob Brandon of the Fair Elections Center; and Tanya Clay House, a Democratic consultant. The DC Informer’s James Wright moderated.
While each panelist offered thoughtful comments, the panel overall suffered from an echo chamber effect. Everyone on the panel was in agreement on most points, and so was everyone in the audience, making for a lengthy head-nodding session.
Things picked up a bit once the Q&A segment opened. Ward 8’s Phil Pannell asked the panelists to weigh in on vote-by-mail (VBM). This is something Chair Charles Wilson and I argued DC should test in last year’s Ward 4 special election for the State Board of Education. Unfortunately, Ward 4 Councilmember Brandon Todd made clear via email that he had no interest in pursuing it. However, it’s been revived in 2019 by Ward 1 Councilmember Brianne Nadeau, with eight of her colleagues voting to advance her bill earlier this month. Brandon Todd wasn’t one of them.
Bosworth of Oregon, where vote-by-mail has been implemented, said their emphasis on procedure had ensured no detectable fraud in VBM. Jones seemed to caution against VBM, arguing that signature matches were used to kick voters off the rolls in Georgia. Others quickly countered that abuse of the signature process by vote suppressors is a concern regardless of the mechanism for voting.
The next questioner asked about Returning Citizens registration, specifically how we can get the federal agency responsible for parole oversight to assist in voter registration. Brandon noted that his organization is working in other states to create a package so that people leaving incarceration are automatically equipped with the resources they need to register. He also floated the idea of pre-registration while incercated, which means registering someone to vote in advance so that they are automatically on the rolls once their eligibility kicks in. We do this already with high school students in DC, starting at age 16.
It wouldn’t be a DCDSC meeting if someone didn’t play the law-and-order card, so one commenter tried re-litigating whether Returning Citizens should be able to vote at all. Stemmons and Clay House both quickly shot that down, with Clay House reminding folks of how restrictive voter laws came into existence to begin with. “Understanding the history is important,” she said. “Removing the right to vote from those who are incarcerated was an effort to deliberately disenfranchise African Americans.”
Strategic Planning Presentation
Several DCDSC members reported on the ongoing strategic planning process within the committee. That process began with a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) analysis. The document is too long and detailed to summarize here, but I’ll link it if/when it is posted on the party website.
Fair Elections Resolution
The part of the evening I was most looking forward to was the deliberation and vote on a Fair Elections resolution submitted by the Ward 1 Democrats. The resolution simply encourages all local 2020 Democratic candidates to participate in the Fair Elections public financing program. 2020 will mark the first election cycle where candidates can do so. In early 2018, legislation creating the program was unanimously passed by the DC Council.
Rather than focus on the content of the resolution, most of the deliberation by DCDSC members focused on how we should enforce all of our resolutions. It’s an important discussion to have, but it nearly derailed the resolution’s consideration. I rose to try to forcefully support the resolution and get the discussion back on track.
One DCDSC member, Ward 7’s newly-elected Chair Derek Ford, asked whether the DC Democratic Party itself would abide by such restrictions in its own fundraising. Chair Wilson made clear that the party would continue accepting corporate donations. Ford later clarified that he wants the party to accept corporate cash, but found it hypocritical to do so while asking others not to.
I, on the other hand, don’t think the party or any candidate for office should touch a dime from anyone other than individual voters or grassroots organizations. It’s reprehensible that the “party of the people” can’t see that its deteriorating position among voters is in part because of this cozy relationship with those who exploit workers, pillage our communities, and destroy the planet.
Here in Ward 4, ANC 4B recently passed a similar resolution, and a coalition of progressive organizations is circulating a petition encouraging the same. You can sign that here.
As a Ward 4 voter, I hope you’ll demand that Councilmember Todd (who voted for this legislation) and any candidates that rise to oppose him participate in Fair Elections. You can nudge Todd by signing on to an open letter that a group of Ward 4 elected officials released last month. Click here to sign.
When all was said and done, the DCDSC resolution passed by voice vote.
Squeezed in at the very end was a brief presentation on the need to update the party by-laws. If you’ve ever read ours, you’d agree. Unfortunately, one example that was mentioned was deeply concerning.
Some are considering building into the by-laws a requirement that DCDSC members support Democratic candidates, an absurd violation of individual rights. This idea likely stems from discussions higher up the chain in the DNC, where debate on how to determine “party loyalty” was revived in light of the Bernie Sanders phenomenon in 2016. Sanders is an independent who caucuses with Democrats in the Senate and only joined the party as a requirement for the 2020 presidential primaries.
My take? It means absolutely nothing to be a Democratic party member. People register to vote, and check a box. That’s it. There’s no requirement that you agree with the platform, that you contribute to the organization’s funds, or that you participate in party activities to remain active. So to compel people to vote for a candidate like, say, Jack Evans, who proudly calls himself the “most conservative” person on the DC Council, or Brandon Todd, who was a registered Republican until he was paid not to be, is an act of coercion, not real party-building.
I’ll be keeping an eye on the by-laws developments to see if this goes anywhere.