So what can you do in a case like that?
What can you do except sit on your hat
Or your toothbrush, or your grandmother
Or anything else that's helpless?
— from "The Whale" by Burl Ives
[Update, Sept. 7: See my new post for an updated list of the most critical groups to support in these final two months.]
This is my guide to candidates and organizations worth supporting for the 2020 elections, perhaps the most important election year of our lifetimes. Let's do more than just post memes or outraged comments on social media. Let's do more than just vote. Let's help to get out the vote, which is the difference-maker in most close elections.
With most of the campaigns or organizations listed below, you can either donate money or volunteer your time, and it doesn't have to be a lot of either. As I've written before, it's like voting: not so much about what any one vote can do as what can happen if enough of us do it.
Here are my recommended campaigns and organizations. (Please add your own suggestions to the comments.)
The Center for Voter Information and the Voter Participation Center are my top two recommendations as the best ways to affect the 2020 elections, even before supporting any given Presidential or Senatorial campaign. Their websites are pretty bare bones and low key, but they were ranked #1 and #2 by a Stanford based group that took a data-driven approach to determining the most effective place to steer political donations for 2020, and if you think about what the VPC and CVI actually do, their rankings begin to make sense.
Basically, the VPC and CVI register voters and then shepherd them through the process of voting by mail, entirely by mail, and they're apparently so good at this that the Stanford group rated them the #1 and #2 political groups even in the normal year of 2019. In this year of pandemic, when registration drives in public places and door-to-door canvassing to get out the vote will probably be impossible, and many voters will be reluctant to go in person to a polling place, the gap in effectiveness between the VPC/CVI and other political action groups can only have grown.
The VPC is a non-partisan non-profit, which means your contributions will be tax deductible. It also means that they are not allowed to distinguish between the parties in their registration and GOTV efforts, but since they target only the three most underrepresented voter demographics (people of color, unmarried women, and the young) their overwhelming effect is to help Democratic candidates and causes, since those groups tend to vote overwhelmingly Democratic.
The CVI does the same thing as the VPC, except with partisan targeting, so they're trying to only register and shepherd people who are likely to vote Democratic. However, that means that contributions to them are not tax deductible.
Choose the group you're most comfortable with (or both!) and send them a contribution. I support both (as well as every other year-round organization in this list) with an automatic monthly donation. Because of the high tech, automated nature of their process, they can only use monetary contributions, so if you're looking instead to volunteer your time and energy, you'll have to go with another group from this list.
And now, here's a list of possible campaigns to support. Again: If you're looking only to donate money, I'd recommend the VPC or CVI instead, but if you're wanting to spread your contributions around, or if you're looking to volunteer your time, here are my rankings for the most important campaigns to support.
I don't actually think Biden is in need of more help than many of our Senate candidates, but the most important goal of 2020 is to get Trump out of office, and so I list the Biden campaign first.
The close Senate races
The following Senate races (in no particular order) are the ones I consider close enough that they should be our first priority. In every case, the Democratic candidate is looking to unseat an incumbent Republican senator. Between now and November, I'll update this list as the campaigns proceed and more polling is done.
AZ: Mark Kelly
(Note: AZ is a Presidential swing state, so helping to get out
the vote for Kelly will also help get out the vote for Biden.)
ME: Sarah Gideon
MT: Steve Bullock
NC: Cal Cunningham
Two seats that might not ordinarily call for much help, but which might be worth supporting since support for one candidate would actually benefit two important campaigns at once.
MI: Gary Peters (Incumbent)
(Peters is slightly favored by all the prognosticators, and so should not
need much help in an election year that seems to be trending Democratic
already, but MI is a Presidential swing state, so as with Kelly in AZ above,
aid given to Peters will also help on the Presidential level.)
GA: Jon Ossof
(Both Georgia Senate seats are actually up for grabs this year, the second
one a vacated seat being filled through a special election. So support for
Ossof would also help the Democratic candidates in the special election,
even though most prognosticators consider both races to be "likely GOP.")
The long shot Senate seats
These candidates have less of a chance of winning, even in some cases where they're currently polling very well, but if you're feeling optimistic about Democratic turnout this year, or if you live in one of these states and feel a special need to work locally, you might consider supporting one of them. Keep in mind, though, that the high priority list above is all we need to retake control of the Senate. In fact, we only need to win four of those six and hold one of the two incumbencies, and we can lose all these contests and still win the Senate, as long as we also recapture the Presidency. So please be careful not to spread your support too thin. It would be great if we won some of these contests, but we shouldn't bet control of the Senate on it.
AL: Doug Jones (Incumbent)
KY: Amy McGrath
SC: Jaime Harrison
THE ONGOING GROUPS
And now, here are some organizations I recommend supporting year-round (along with the VPC and CVI, of course) apart from any particular election cycle:
Congress and the Oval Office are obvious targets for electoral action, but don't forget the state legislatures. Decisions made at the state level can have profound effects on national politics (for example, through Congressional redistricting) and state legislatures can be the training ground for future candidates for Congress or above (*cough* Barack *cough*). The problem is that there are thousands of state legislative seats in America, so it's not easy to find the critical, competitive ones. This is where Flippable comes in. They do the legwork so you can give your support to the most important legislative contests in any given year.
Polls show that the young are vastly more progressive than older people. Unfortunately, they also vote in smaller numbers than any other age group. NextGen America, an organization founded by Tom Steyer (his best and most important work for this country, in my opinion) is reaching out to young people in battleground states in order to get them to the polls.
African Americans are another demographic that leans way to the left in its voting. BlackPAC trains community leaders and organizers and works to register, inform, and activate black voters.
This group arose from the March for Science, and is recruiting, training, and supporting scientists and STEM professionals to run for public office at all levels. Wouldn't it be great to have more officeholders who have been trained to distinguish fact from fiction?
On the subject of STEM, this group recruits, organizes, and equips high tech professionals to help campaigns with technology. This can range from simply setting up a website and social networking feeds to creating digital ad campaigns to doing sophisticated data analysis of the voter rolls to more accurately target registration and get-out-vote efforts. One of their long term goals is to create software that can be reused by future campaigns. I'm excited not just about the good they'll do, but over all the high tech professionals they're going to activate politically (over 11,000 so far!) and all the work those individuals will go on to do in their lives, whether under the auspices of Tech For Campaigns or not.
After Stacey Abrams lost the 2018 Georgia gubernatorial election to the Republican Secretary of State, who used his office to suppress the minority and low-income vote to squeak out a narrow victory, she formed this organization to fight voter suppression not only in Georgia, but throughout the country. They can potentially play a huge role in 2020, when BOTH Georgia Senate seats will be contested.
One of the most dangerous voter suppression tactics is the imposition of a "voter ID" requirement, which adds an extra, unnecessary, and often onerous step to the voting process. Often, this is combined with steps to make getting an ID more difficult for minorities or the poor. One way to fight this is at the policy level, exposing voter ID laws for what they are, or at the electoral level, voting out the politicians who support them, but it's equally important to simply help those voters who currently find themselves subject to such laws. That's what this group does: help voters get their IDs, not just for voting but for the many other aspects of modern life that require them.
Postcards To Voters and Vote Forward take a different approach: they allow you to personally send postal mail to potential Democratic voters in key campaigns urging them to get out and vote. They both claim that followup analysis shows this can be highly effective. Interestingly, Postcards To Voters deliberately sends their postcards well before an election, while Vote Forward sends their letters within a week of an election. Each group believes its approach — postcards early vs. letters late — is the best, and you can read their arguments and decide for yourself. (Or participate in both efforts without any danger of overlap!) Note: some of the groups above also organize letter writing campaigns.
And that's my list, so far. Again, if you have any suggestions of your own, please send them to me or share them in the comments. And please: consider supporting one or more of these groups, either as a volunteer or with a one-time or monthly donation.