The Downballot: How progressives are organizing ‘blue surge’ voters (transcript)

Countless progressive organizations seek to engage and mobilize voters, but coordinating those efforts is a mighty task. On this week's episode of "The Downballot," we're joined by Sara Schreiber, the executive director of America Votes, which works with hundreds of partners at the national and state level to deploy the most effective means of urging voters to the polls. Schreiber walks us through how coalitions of like-minded groups are formed and how the work of direct voter contact is divvied up between them. A special focus is on "blue surge" voters—those who, in the Trump era, joined the rolls for the first time—and why ensuring they continue to participate in the political process is the key to progressive victories.

Co-hosts David Nir and David Beard also take stock of recent developments in Pennsylvania and Ohio, two Rust Belt neighbors where Republicans—for once—are breathing a sigh of relief after a pair of disastrous 2022 candidates opted against repeat bids in 2024. They then dive into the extremely belated impeachment of Texas' corrupt attorney general by his fellow Republicans and remind listeners to mark their calendars for a major special election that just got scheduled in New Hampshire.

This transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.

David Beard: Hello and welcome. I'm David Beard, contributing editor for Daily Kos Elections.

David Nir: And I'm David Nir, political director of Daily Kos. "The Downballot" is a weekly podcast dedicated to the many elections that take place below the presidency, from Senate to city council. Please subscribe to "The Downballot" on Apple Podcasts and leave us a five-star rating and review.

Beard: We've got a bit of a short week this week, but I think it's still, we've got a few political events to cover, right?

Nir: We do indeed. A couple of absolutely disastrous lunatic MAGA candidates have decided not to run in 2024. Republicans dodged a bullet. Meanwhile, Republicans actually impeached their own completely corrupt attorney general in the state of Texas. We'll discuss the fallout there.

And then a huge, huge special election for the New Hampshire state House, which is balanced on a knife edge, has been scheduled for later this summer. So we'll let you know what is going down there.

And then our guest this week is Sara Schreiber, the Executive Director of America Votes, an organization that coordinates get-out-the-vote efforts with hundreds of partners in key states nationwide. We're going to be talking with her about how they do it all. We have a great episode coming up, so let's get rolling.

So we're just coming back from a holiday weekend and the election news is actually for once a little bit on the quieter side, and I don't think I'm complaining. But we do have a few stories that we have to cover in our weekly hits.

Beard: So two of the crazier GOP candidates from 2022 we unfortunately won't have to kick around anymore as we look to 2024. First off, in Pennsylvania, state Sen. Doug Mastriano sort of unexpectedly announced that he was not going to run for Senate, that he would stay out of the GOP primary to take on Democratic incumbent Sen. Bob Casey. Which is going to make Mitch McConnell and the rest of the establishment Republicans very happy.

He was blown out in his governor's race in 2022. He lost 56 to 42 to now-Gov. Josh Shapiro. He couldn't raise any money. He had a chaotic campaign. He had all of the right-wing crazy stuff flying out of him, the whole campaign. And it was clear that all of the D.C. Republicans dreaded the idea of him having any sort of nomination for anything again. So that does leave the door open for the person the establishment Republicans seem to want to be their candidate, which is rich guy CEO Dave McCormick.

Why they think McCormick is such a great candidate other than he has a ton of money, is not quite clear to me. He also has some questionable roots to Pennsylvania like Oz did last cycle. So that's something that's going to come up. He's also just primarily somebody who's super-rich. He doesn't have any sort of strong electoral history or ties to some state industry that would be helpful, but they're all in on him. I assume they're going to save him a bunch of money. So that's what they want for Pennsylvania, and he'll probably have a pretty good shot at the nomination at this point. So we'll see how that plays out.

Nir: And even if they get McCormick, do you really feel that Bob Casey is one of their top targets? I mean, definitely, definitely not. I don't even think I would put him in their top five. So I think that maybe the only reason why they're really wooing McCormick is because they otherwise would write this race off. So at least this gives them a chance to force Casey to run an aggressive campaign and raise a lot of money. But Bob Casey wouldn't take it for granted anyway. He'd be doing all of those things anyway, so I don't know how much even landing McCormick would get them. But also, who knows, maybe Doug Mastriano 2.0 will come out of the QAnon woodwork and run for Senate and totally screw over McCormick, and it just wouldn't be a shock.

Beard: Yeah, absolutely. Some crazy person is going to run for Senate in Pennsylvania. It's just a question of will they get enough money and attention to make that a competitive race against McCormick, which is absolutely possible. It is strange. A few weeks ago, McConnell listed like the top targets for Senate Republicans, and he listed the three obvious races, which are the states that Trump won twice, which is Ohio, West Virginia, and Montana. Those are, I think, everybody's obvious top targets for Senate Republicans.

And then he listed Pennsylvania as the fourth one, which I think some people took as him trying to get McCormick into the race. Because I don't think anybody, like you said, thinks that Pennsylvania is actually the fourth-best target for Senate Republicans. It's way down the list. So it's very strange, but clearly they want McCormick to come and spend millions and millions of dollars, which he has.

Now, the other candidate that we're not going to see in 2024 was a candidate who had announced. That's J.R. Majewski, who had announced a second run against Democratic incumbent Rep. Marcy Kaptur in Ohio's 9th District in the Toledo area. Majewski was a terrible candidate. QAnon supporter, somebody who had misrepresented his military service and just really lost the seat that Republicans absolutely should have won in 2022. But he was up for running again and probably losing again.

But he emailed his supporters on Tuesday saying that his mother had to undergo triple bypass surgery later this month, and he wanted time to be there for her recovery. So obviously we wish his mother the best. It's unclear now who the nominee in Ohio 9 will be and if they will be as crazy as J.R. Majewski was, but we'll have to wait and see. Kaptur will definitely have a real tough race on her hands either way. And we also don't know what her seat may look like because there's a good chance that Ohio Republicans are going to redistrict the congressional map now that they have firmer control over the Supreme Court there.

Nir: Majewski is a perfect example of an absolute lunatic coming out of seemingly nowhere and defeating well-established establishment choices. I realize that sounds kind of repetitive, but it was an astonishing primary on one level. But at the same time, it's the kind of thing that I think we have to grow increasingly used to and just accept as the new normal for the GOP. This is going to happen again. Maybe it won't be Pennsylvania Senate, maybe it won't be Ohio 9, but they are for certain going to fumble some more races next year because someone totally screws them by winning a nomination in an otherwise competitive seat and turning off normal, middle-of-the-road voters.

Beard: Yeah, this is an institutional problem within the Republican Party, and it's definitely not going away for 2024. It's probably not going away for the next five years plus, so we'll just have to see where things go in the longer term.

The other big topic I wanted to cover this week was down in Texas where Attorney General Ken Paxton was somewhat unexpectedly impeached and is now temporarily suspended from office. Now, Paxton was charged with securities fraud in 2015, eight years ago, in a trial that has still yet to be scheduled. So who knows when that will happen? But it's not like it was just securities fraud eight years ago that has been the only problem. He's had all number of ethical lapses over the years.

In November of 2020, the AP reported that the FBI was probing him in an unrelated matter for allegedly using his office to help wealthy ally Nate Paul in exchange for some sort of favors. And then later, four of Paxton's former top aides filed a whistleblower lawsuit claiming that he'd retaliated against them for helping in that investigation. So it's been a whole mess over a number of years, and he could have been impeached really at any time in the last eight years. But what happened was Paxton and his former employees reached a tentative settlement back in February, but it was contingent on the Texas legislature approving $3.3 million in state funds paid to those people who had filed the lawsuit.

And the Texas House in particular was very uninterested in paying this very large bill for Ken Paxton's ethical lapses, and the House General Investigating Committee, seemingly very belatedly, started actually investigating Paxton and then just recently came out with 20 articles of impeachment against Paxton for the full House to vote on. And they went on to say, "We cannot overemphasize the fact that but for Paxton's own request for a taxpayer funded settlement, Paxton would not be facing impeachment."

Which on the one hand, I guess you could see how that brought their attention and ire over it. On the other hand, these have all been well-reported issues for years. So why it took this bill for the Texas House to decide, "Oh, actually maybe this scandal-ridden attorney general should be impeached"—took so long—is sort of inexplicable.

But nevertheless, they did finally do it. The vote was 121 to 23 in favor of all 20 articles of impeachment—it was just one vote. Sixty Republicans voted for it, joining 61 Democrats. All 23 "nos" came from Republicans. So about three-fourths of the Republicans voted for the articles of impeachment. And then this is going to go on to the Texas Senate, where they will have a trial similar to how it works at the U.S. Congress, and they'll need two-thirds of members to convict Paxton to remove him from office. Otherwise, he would resume his duties.

Now, if Paxton is convicted and removed from office, Gov. Greg Abbott would appoint a replacement that would serve through the 2024 elections, though that replacement would need to be confirmed by the Senate. The 2024 [race] would be a special election, of course. Texas attorneys general are normally elected in midterm years, and so that would take place just for the final two years of Paxton's term, and whoever won that would be up again in 2026.

Nir: Yeah, that could be a really interesting race. I'm sure Democrats would want to try to compete pretty hard in that one. But it also, I think, depends heavily on the overall environment. It's kind of hard to see Joe Biden devoting resources to try to win Texas at the top of the ticket. So can Democrats actually win some downballot races that are statewide, even if the race for the White House kind of bypasses the Lone Star state?

Of course, there's the U.S. Senate race; Democrats recently landing Representative Colin Allred for that contest. I don't know. I think it would at least be interesting to see this race go up in a special election. And of course, Democrats are on their longest statewide losing streak in the country in Texas. The last time they won a statewide race there was all the way back in 1994.

One more item, mark your calendars. A critical special election has been scheduled in the New Hampshire state House, where Republicans currently have just the skinniest of majorities, and if Democrats win, there would be an exact tie in the chamber. So here is the story in Rockingham County District 1. There will be a primary on Aug. 1 and a general election on Sept. 19. However, if only one candidate from each party files by the filing deadline, which is coming up very soon, it's June 9, then they would skip the primary altogether and just hold the general election on that day, Aug. 1. So there is a good chance of that happening, which means that this special election is coming up very fast.

As for the exact numbers. Republicans currently hold a 200 to 198 advantage in the state House. There is another vacant seat, but it is held by Democrats and it is safely blue, so Democrats are very likely to hold onto that seat. That special hasn't been scheduled yet, but it'll probably take place sometime this fall.

Now the special election that just got scheduled in Rockingham County, that is for a GOP held seat, and it is extremely competitive—very, very swingy. Donald Trump won it by less than a point. Maggie Hassan, the Democratic senator, won it by 2 points last year en route to reelection. In 2022 as well, Democrats wound up losing—Democrats fell just 10 votes short of winning a seat in this district. So there is a really good chance that they can flip it during that special election.

Then what happens if Democrats win both of those special elections? Well, we have a 200-to-200 tie, an exact tie±that's never happened in the New Hampshire House before. What happens after that is really unclear. In most states, you would typically see some sort of power-sharing agreement worked out between parties when they have equal numbers of seats. Also, by the way, this is a really good reason why every state legislature should have an odd number of total seats so as to make ties much less likely.

But the added wrinkle here is that five Democratic members of the House voted for the Republican speaker. So we don't know if they're ready to come back to the fold if Democrats actually get to this 200-200 tie. And we don't know who those five are, unfortunately, because it was a secret ballot. Obviously, we'd love to primary them otherwise.

What we do know, though, is that there will almost certainly be more special elections after this one. The big day coming up in New Hampshire prior to this special is June 29. That is when the current legislative session will come to an end. Lawmakers have to agree on a budget, and after that point is when we'll typically see some more resignations.

In the New Hampshire House, lawmakers are paid $100 a year. Everyone has to have outside jobs, unless you're retired. So it is a job where the appeal, I guess, kind of can often wear thin after a little while. And Democrats, as we've mentioned on the show before, have been doing very well in special elections, not just in New Hampshire, but around the country.

So I think, man, it could be in the next half year or so, it's certainly possible that Democrats could wind up with a majority of seats in the state House. I've got to think that Democratic Party leadership would at least be able to make a compelling case to its caucus and say, "Hey, we need to have a new vote on and elect a new speaker, and that speaker should be a Democrat."

Beard: Yeah, I could imagine that if it ended up being 200-200 for some period of time that there would be a push to just maintain the status quo or do some mild power-sharing and keep the current Republican leadership. But if you do get at some point to 201 Democrats, I think there does tend to then develop a lot of pressure, like you said, to have Democratic leadership, if an actual majority of the House is Democrats.

But, obviously, that's something that we'll have to track and continue to wait and see. We've got this one special election. Like you said, there's special elections in New Hampshire every few months, just given the way that it functions. So that's something we'll definitely continue to track and see if Democrats can get over the hump later this year or next.

Nir: One last point to make is that day-to-day control of the New Hampshire House really depends on who actually shows up. Because there are always absences, there's always someone missing. Just the other week, Democrats actually defeated a major Republican anti-LGBT bill, a, quote-unquote "Parents' Bill of Rights" that was very, very pernicious to young LGBTQ people. Because not enough Republicans showed up, they defeated this thing and now it can't come up for another—I think until 2024 at the soonest. So really just adding more seats to the caucus can make a huge difference even if the speakership doesn't change hands.

Beard: Yeah. And, obviously, it's very important who maintains the control of the House and, I imagine, for a lot of people who live in the state of New Hampshire. It's also really interesting just to follow this sort of craziness when it changes one day to the next. So it certainly keeps us tuned in more than your average state legislative chamber.

Nir: Indeed, it does. Coming up, we are going to be talking with Sara Schreiber, the executive director of America Votes, an organization dedicated to engaging and mobilizing voters around the country. We have a great conversation coming up right after the break.

Nir: Joining us today is Sara Schreiber, the executive director of America Votes, which coordinates more than 400 partners to engage and mobilize voters for elections up and down the ballot across the country. Sara, thank you so much for coming on "The Downballot" today.

Sara Schreiber: Thank you. I'm excited to be here.

Nir: So let's dive right in, and I'd like to start by asking you to simply tell us about what America Votes is, what you do and, in particular, how you guys differ from most of the other organizations that our listeners may have heard or even been involved with?

Schreiber: Absolutely. Thank you for the question. As you said, we work to empower and mobilize Americans to turn out and vote in elections. We are considered the permanent center of gravity for progressives, and the way that we differ from other organizations is that our mission is dedicated to coordinating the work of those hundreds of allied groups that you mentioned.

We also have permanent operations and seasoned campaign staff in more than a dozen states, and we focus on every level of the ballot. For example, this year alone, AV has played a role in victories from the Wisconsin Supreme Court to the many legislative special elections in New Hampshire to the Jacksonville mayoral race.

We do this all while preparing and doing early planning with our coalition partners for all levels of the ballot in '24. As you mentioned, we do this work with a broad coalition of more than 80 national partners and hundreds of state groups. This can include groups like the A. Philip Randolph Institute in North Carolina, the New Georgia Project, One APIA in Nevada, and the national groups like the League of Conservation Voters and Planned Parenthood.

In our states, our partners are active and engaged members of their local communities, and we feel like those are the things that really set us apart in the [independent expenditure] infrastructure.

Nir: So you anticipated exactly what I wanted to talk about next, which is who are your potential partners? How do you find them? Who do you consider? What criteria are necessary for working with America Votes?

Schreiber: Yeah. So America Votes works with nonprofits and PACs on the independent expenditure side of the campaign infrastructure, so that means not coordinated with the party or candidates. We really focus on bringing together the broadest coalition of groups to work on elections, democracy, and voting rights issues that our community agrees on, despite differences potentially on other matters.

It's often said that America Votes is one place where orgs as different as environmental groups and the building trades unions might come together and sit at the same table. It's critical for our work and for winning elections that our coalition be reflective of the voters we're trying to reach.

So our partners are not only broad in terms of the type of partner, whether it's nonprofits, PACs, or super PACs, that are focused on different ballots or broad in terms of issues, as I just mentioned. But it is important to us that our partners represent a wide array of demographic constituencies as well.

In our last partner survey at the end of last year, 67% of the groups at the table had a focus on voters representing communities of color and over half of our partner organizations are led by people of color, which is important to us as we think about the constituencies that we're working to empower and mobilize.

Nir: Sara, you mentioned a few organizations by name. I'm wondering if it would be possible for you to maybe walk us through a situation where a new partner joined AV and how you identified them, or perhaps they came to you. Maybe if you can just tell us about someone specific by name.

That would be, I think, very useful to our listeners. We love to get down into the nitty-gritty of how organizations like yours operate because so much does happen behind the scenes that your typical voter doesn't necessarily get to know about.

Schreiber: Yeah, and I think a great example of that is one of the groups that I mentioned earlier, which is One Asian American Pacific Islander Americans Nevada, also known as One APIA Nevada. They had been present in the community in Nevada for a long time and had been doing mostly work on the 501(c)(3) side, so just around that kind of pure civic engagement work.

As our table director at the time got to know them in 2016, they really saw an opening with the growing population of Asian American Pacific Islanders in Nevada to create an organization that connected, communicated, and empowered those voters from the community. So we worked with them to build up their (c)(4) capacity, and now they sit at the table and are one of the strongest partners in the state.

So that's a really good example of a local organization that might come to the table, and they're hearing about us in the community and thinking about how they can do work to empower their constituencies from an electoral perspective and a voter mobilization perspective, but maybe haven't always done that in their day-to-day work as a 501(c)(3).

Beard: You mentioned that you focus on the IE side, that's what America Votes does. Now, what role do the state Democratic parties play? Are they largely sort of separated out because of that independent rule? Are there some states where they do participate?

Then assuming that you do generally work separately, do you ever have conflicts? Not in a negative way, but like if they're doing canvassing and you're doing canvassing or if you're running ads on similar issues, how do you deal with that when there's that sort of separation?

Schreiber: Great question. Yes. While state Democratic parties usually aren't directly at the table due to coordination rules, we do believe in building stronger relationships with the state parties in an indirect way. So an example of that would be after elections are over, often we meet with either state parties or some of the national entities to look back on a previous cycle to learn what we can about what their program looked like in that previous cycle in a legally appropriate way. We believe a strong ecosystem in a state and nationally involves stronger parties and also stronger outside groups like America Votes, so we consider them as part of the whole ecosystem.

I think to your question around conflicts, there's not really conflicts and we certainly can't coordinate with the parties in cycle. However, we can make assessments based on publicly available information and take that in as we think about what our programs look like.

Beard: Now, one of the terms that I think is really common, and America Votes use a lot, is the term "table." You hear this a lot in and around politics—is like, what are the "table" in a certain state going to do, or what are their plans going to be? Can you just explain for our listeners what a table is, for example, in Nevada?

Schreiber: Yes, I think it's a great question, and "table" really refers to the people who are present "at the table" in a coalition. And so it really refers to a coalition on the ground that is working towards shared goals.

Beard: And now, when those members of that table meet, what sort of process and decision-making takes place there? You've got all these groups together, presumably you're leading up towards, let's say, an election in 18 months or a year. What are they actually doing? How are they working together to implement whatever process and program America Votes comes up with?

Schreiber: Yes, it's a good question. So there's various points throughout the cycle where partners are making collective decisions about priorities in their respective states, but probably the most important thing that we think about when we are thinking about collective decision-making and the work of our partners is developing the plans to win elections, and identifying what needs to be done to execute on those plans and really where the gaps are.

So that might be something as big of a picture as, when we are sticking with our Nevada example, because we've talked about that a lot today. When we're thinking about a strategy to win in Nevada in '24 and beyond and to truly empower and mobilize the voters that make up the state, our partners might come together and realize that there's not an Indigenous organizing entity on the ground. And so it might be as big of a picture as thinking about what a gap looks like in an organizational component, to connect and mobilize a certain set of voters.

Or in a state like Colorado where you're stronger and more blue, there's not a candidate recruitment entity that is strong, and we need to continue to build that power in order to continue to build the pipeline for a democratic stronghold like Colorado. And so some of the decisions are really big, that they come together and think about how they're covering those gaps.

And they're simultaneously doing that together while they're taking a look at the voter file analysis from 2022 and beginning to build out what a path to victory looks like, and what voter universes look like. We're providing that information to the "table" who's meeting to look back on '22 and meeting to build this plan, and thinking about what various levels of the ballot, what victory looks like and where they really focus this work is where they can agree.

And so particularly on statewides. Sometimes it gets a little tougher downballot. People might have different views on what races should be priority, but our work really aligns where our partners are aligned and where they have shared priorities, and determining the best use of our collective resources to execute those plans that they are developing right now, looking toward '24.

Beard: So obviously there's a big national picture at play, obviously when you're talking about federal elections, but within those federal elections there are 50 states, plus the District of Columbia, and America Votes I don't think plays in all of them. So you have to decide which states to plan. And I saw on your website you've got a distinction between what you call core states, affiliate states, and project states. So can you break that down for us and how you as the national America Votes decide which states to work in the most?

Schreiber: Yes, absolutely. And I will say this is part of what I love about America Votes the most, and I think what has kept us strong and growing over the last 20 years, we have a wide map and we invest year-round in our core states. But we're also able to focus on the most competitive states from year to year, which are typically the states where our partners are focusing most of their work, which includes some key affiliate states where we have an affiliation with an established coalition on the ground.

Examples of that might be Arizona, Maine, and Montana, where they've all been in different levels of competitiveness over the last few cycles but are certainly states where a lot of our work has focused. So when we think about where our program plays the heaviest, it's certainly in battleground states at the presidential, Senate, and gubernatorial level, which has fluctuated some over the past cycles. But for '24 that would likely be Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Montana, Nevada, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin.

And so you'll see there's a mix of core and affiliate states within that. But we also have established core operations in places that may not be battlegrounds. And in those places we still look to see where we can make a difference. Like in Colorado, they're going to have two key House races in '24, which we know with the margins in the House will be extremely important. So thinking about how we are not only continually building and working on the in-state infrastructure and power-building, but also how we can have an effect on those House races. And in a place like Florida where we just invested to run a field program for the successful Jacksonville mayor's race. And wins like that will be part of a long-term strategy to build back Florida over multiple cycles.

Nir: So, we'd love to talk about a race that we have talked about endlessly this year and continue to talk about, even though it's now a couple months in the rear-view. And that is the fantastic, amazing victory in Wisconsin for the state Supreme Court. You guys played a key role in helping to elect progressive Judge Janet Protasiewicz. She will take her seat on the bench on Aug. 1. I would love it, Sara, if you could walk us through, really from beginning to end, to explain precisely what AV did in that race to help bring about that huge double-digit statewide victory, and truly the nerdier the better. I want the full details.

Schreiber: Well, I'll do my best and thank you, Nir and Beard, for giving me an opportunity to talk about this. We can't get enough of it either. Okay, so America Votes has been on the ground in Wisconsin since we started up more than 20 years ago, and we've been there since the beginning. And because we've been there since the beginning, this has been a very real rollercoaster of a state.

As your listeners know, we've suffered some really tough losses in that state, and we've also had some really great victories. But this one was important beyond measure in some ways. It was the largest ever spring election voter mobilization push that we've ran in the state, and that was led by our amazing state director, Jasmine Nears, who leads up our team there and in coalition with a group of leaders in the state, including Ben Wikler, who I know you all have talked to. Where we could coordinate in this specific election with the state party, we did.

And that really started from the AV perspective of defining our target universe of voters. Our folks take a look at previous spring elections, what happened in '22, to calculate a win number that we needed to hit in order to win the election for Justice Protasiewicz and created a plan for our partners on the ground to reach that. So America Votes' lane is typically in the direct voter contact lane and the "field" lane. And so at the end of the day, our coalition of more than 40 groups knocked on 535,000 doors, made 678,000 phone calls and had 136,000 conversations with voters. And so, this is really the underpinning of the work that we did in Wisconsin. It really started with trying to figure out who we needed to talk to and what the target universe was, sharing that out with the coalition, refining it, developing a plan to talk to the highest-priority voters, and then executing that with our partners. And our partners did an amazing job of executing that.

It was a really amazing example of what progressives can do when we coordinate and work together on these state races. And I don't think it can go without saying that this was such a good example of how salient abortion is now, in light of the Dobbs ruling and Justice Protasiewicz's 10-point victory in an otherwise 50-50 state—really, in our view, adds to the mounting evidence that abortion is transforming politics in ways that many pundits and strategists have really been slow to comprehend.

And I think for our part, when we think about the transformation of politics post-Roe, post-Dobbs decision, it's thinking about our coalition of voters, and the growth that we have seen in Wisconsin was a great example of that in when you look at women and their performance, and young voters and their performance in the election. And so, it was an exciting win for us and an important one.

And I don't feel like I have to tell you guys this, but obviously a good reminder of how critical state Supreme Courts are to many of our aspects of democracy, whether it's redistricting or certification of elections, fair representation. And so, our work on these races does not stop in Wisconsin. I know we have talked, or you all have talked on the show a lot about North Carolina and also about Pennsylvania, and those are going to be critical Supreme Court elections coming up.

And I hope that people remember that these state Supreme Court races are winnable and extremely consequential in people's day-to-day lives. And while it may be difficult to win in places like North Carolina—and you all have pointed this out on the show—the stakes are too high to give up and it has to be part of any long-term strategy to build power in a state.

Nir: I think you just distilled the essence of this podcast down almost perfectly. We are a show devoted to trying to remind Democrats and progressives, focus on abortion and focus on state Supreme Court races.

Schreiber: True.

Beard: Now, when you talked about the many, many voters that you contacted through your partners during the spring election, let's get down into specifically how that works. Now, when you have a partner organization, do they get assigned a set amount of voters? Do they say, "Oh, here's our membership. What voters do we need to contact within our membership?" How does it actually work in terms of working with so many different groups, to make sure all these different voters are getting contacted?

Schreiber: We look at our partner organizations and where they are best aligned to talk to different segments of our voter universe. Different organizations may be better to talk to different segments of the universe that's defined through that planning process. So to stick with One APIA Nevada, we try to do everything we can to give the portion of the universe to One APIA Nevada that is identified as AAPI.

Likewise, when we think about Planned Parenthood, there's a huge women's population within our GOTV universes, and thinking about how they are aligned to talk to those voters. I think it lends itself to that, because we are a direct voter contact-mostly-focused organization. And so when we think about the tactics that are being used, it is tactics that are directly connected to a voter. So knocking on people's doors, sending mail, phone calling, texting. They are aligned back with the voter file, which does allow us to be able to take different segments of the universe and assign it to different folks.

Nir: Speaking of tactics, that is the perfect launching point for the next thing I wanted to ask about, which are the ways that strategies and tactics have evolved in recent years, particularly in the wake of the pandemic. What new approaches are you taking? What new challenges have you faced in recent years?

Schreiber: Thank you for the question. I did mention direct voter contact. And I think as we look at some of the newer tactics, we should not—which—I guess, I would say, I wish I could tell you that there was a new tactic and a silver bullet. But what we have actually really found, particularly with the voters that we are focused on turning out, which are young voters, voters of color, and other underrepresented groups, we feel that canvas, phone calls, mail, and text are the most effective ways to contact these likely sporadic voters or unlikely voters.

Face-to-face contact breaks through, especially when you're working with voters who are less likely to vote, and are those sporadic voters, when they are bombarded with political advertising and the airwaves are saturated. There's really nothing that breaks through like a face-to-face contact from someone who's talking about an issue that you care about and that is from your community.

And so when we look at some of the newer tactics that are direct voter contact-focused, we have things like relational, where folks can reach out to people in their network, or even site-based work where people are continuing to contact voters at high-traffic areas where they are, but integrating technology to track that and make sure that it's going back into the voter file and back into our collective shared plan so we can track it against goals, if that makes sense.

Beard: Now in terms of like you said, site-based organizing, that almost reminds me of obviously classical organizing in the labor movement, which does a lot of its organizing work when it can at work sites, obviously, where people are, where they spend a lot of their time when they're not at home is at work. And so those sorts of site-based—it may not be a workplace, but other places where somebody is every day on a regular basis—may be the best place to actually find and talk to them.

Schreiber: Absolutely. And I think the trick, now that we have more technology and more ways to understand folks through data, [is] making sure that we're connecting those interactions at site-based places or when people are reaching out to their own networks back to the voter file. Whether they take an action to get registered or they're already on it, it's really important for us to track that back so that we can continue to meet our goals. And as I talked about creating those GOTV universes, see how many folks we're attempting and talking to, to cover the largest swath of voters possible.

Nir: So you mentioned that America Votes got its start about 20 years ago, but obviously we have seen some enormous shifts in politics in the composition of the electorate in particular. And really in the coalition that Democrats are relying on for victories changed so, so, so much in the Trump era and the post-Trump era. And I'm curious to know about how AV has adapted during that time and the challenges you faced during this really epochal shift and whatever challenges you see might lie ahead, especially for the 2024 election.

Schreiber: Yes. Well, one thing is for sure that there has been, post-2016, a new generation of voters, we at America Votes call it the "blue surge" that was activated post-2016. And that was 46 million people who either skipped the 2016 election and returned to vote in '18 or '20 or voted for the first time in one of these elections. And that is who we really have focused our program on in '22. And in 2022 alone, 17 million voters, which was 21% of the total, came from people who registered in 2018, 2020, or '22.

And these voters are young, and they're diverse. More than half of them are 18 to 34, nearly half are people of color, and more than 56% of them are women. And particularly post-Dobbs in '22, the coalition has seen gains with college educated women, and even with some white non-college women in our most highly contested states. Young voters in particular have disproportionately supported Democrats since 2016 in what was a 50/50 electorate in the '80s, young voters were.

In '22, 65% of these voters between the ages of 18 and 29 supported Democrats. And that exceeded Biden's performance with that group in 2020 by 3 points, and this is the fourth major election cycle in a row where Democratic support among young voters was higher than 60%. This is not an accident, and it is the work of our partners and our allied groups who have been registering these folks and working to mobilize and connect with them.

I talked a lot about what our coalition is comprised of, and the partners that we work with, and they are partners and organizations in these communities that are connecting with exactly this surge of voters. And last year, our coalition knocked more than 26 million doors and talked to more than 5 million voters in '22. And it was all focused on this universe of voters because our partners also organize around issues. They are especially effective at mobilizing young people who are less partisan and more motivated by the issues that they're passionate about.

And we know that there was an impact of our work because where we were not working and in more localized, less contested races, we did see some of these red waves materialize. And as we go into '24, we need to double down on these tactics that work.

There's really no silver bullet in campaigns. The best way to win, especially in this high-turnout area, is doing what I've been talking about, which is talking to voters, meeting them where they are, with a focus on those who are less likely to turn out but are more likely to support you if they do. And our analysis shows that there are still 1.24 million of these "blue surge" voters who did not turn out in this last midterm. And mobilizing the voters who did show up, but also these voters, will be crucial to maintaining and building progressive power across the country.

And I think because of this success that we've had in these last three cycles, both in terms of win but also just the size of the program, we have seen Republicans taking notice of that. And I think one of the challenges that we all need to be aware of and that we are going to see and we have seen is this surgical precision around trying to limit the right to vote.

Recently the RNC chair was on a podcast where she talked about being for ballot harvesting in places like Montana and Nevada where they saw some wins, but being against it through lawsuits in places like Arizona. And I think we have done a good job of, when we get power, making expansion of democracy and protecting the expansion and the right to vote a top priority. We've seen it across new trifectas like Minnesota and Michigan, and in strongholds like New Mexico and Colorado.

But we cannot take our foot off the gas on that in making elections more accessible, and more secure, and just easier for the voter process for folks. Because we know that they are going to come at us in all the states through litigation and other means to try to take away this right to vote as their agenda is less and less popular with a broader set of voters. And so they want to try to choose how folks are picking the leaders instead of expanding the right to vote and allowing folks to choose the leaders that represent their issues.

Nir: We have been talking with Sara Schreiber, the executive director of America Votes. Sara, before we let you go, let's talk about how our listeners can expand democracy and fight against those Republican tactics you were just talking about. Where can folks go to learn more about America Votes and how can they get involved with you and your partner organizations?

Schreiber: So America Votes is on Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, and Facebook, all with the handle @AmericaVotes. I'm also on Twitter at @SchreiberSara, and tweet here and there. But always appreciate more followers. And that's really the best place, or to our website, which is, where you can see our partner organizations and learn more about our organization.

Nir: Sara, thank you so much for joining us on "The Downballot" today.

Schreiber: Thank you. It's been a real pleasure.

Beard: That's all from us this week. Thanks to Sara Schreiber for joining us. "The Downballot" comes out every Thursday everywhere you listen to podcasts. You can reach out to us by emailing If you haven't already, please subscribe to "The Downballot" on Apple Podcasts and leave us a five-star rating and review. Thanks to our producer, Walter Einenkel, and editor, Trever Jones. We'll be back next week with a new episode.