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The Amazing Ballot Race

2020 December 28
by Matt

In 2020 I had something of a minor hit on my hands, with The Amazing Ballot Race.

This was essentially a grassroots campaign to promote voting by mail; its precise definition and boundaries are somewhat vague, and expanded as it went along. By the conclusion of the campaign, I think around half of Cleveland’s Democratic ward clubs participated in some form.

The Amazing Ballot Race was also the first time my work got a recognition shout-out from Sherrod Brown (or any U.S. senator).

Making The Amazing Ballot Race happen was the work of many people, from volunteers to donors to the organizers. Nora Kelley of Cleveland Ward 17 deserves first position on any list. But I assisted with the concept and plans, and I wrote and designed the door-to-door literature which was the project’s tangible coreā€”and which I think played an important part in drawing the subsequent take-up by groups in more and more areas.

It’s difficult to assert that this was an unalloyed, total success. Overall voter turnout in Cleveland declined in 2020 compared with 2016. But, though I don’t have data sufficient to interpret everything, I know for certain that Ward 17 (despite flat voter registration figures) was an exception to that overall decline, and was also where this grassroots effort started the earliest and had the most extensive eventual reach. The “full version” began months before Election Day, distributing ballot request forms* with literature (including handwritten notes) encouraging early use thereof, and concluded with the formally named “Amazing Ballot Race” going back to households which had requested a vote-by-mail ballot and leaving new literature encouraging voting without delay.

State Representative Bride Rose Sweeney (HD-14)

Everywhere, of course, the participants were feeling their way through everyone’s first experience trying to adapt campaign “field work” to function amid a pandemic without contributing to the pandemic. Under the circumstances I’m willing to do some grading on a curve, and take a bit of pride in this project’s reach even if most of the participants joined up “already in progress.”

* Ohio does not have online requests to vote by mail, in part because Secretary of State Frank LaRose betrayed years of pretended voter advocacy this year, in favor of a frantic all-fronts voter suppression campaign. This was/is outrageous, and needs to be simpler; below (combined with request forms clipped to the literature) was as simple as I could make the process seem:

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