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The Hill: Putting the progressive movement to work from home

June 5, 2020

By Ben Tyson and Suzy Smith

Lately, it seems like we're living in a world of "what-ifs." What if we never let the coronavirus get to the point it has? What if the U.S had appropriate healthcare infrastructure in place to combat a virus as serious as COVID-19? What if Donald Trump was not the one responsible for leading America out of the nation's worst economic crisis since the Great Depression? America can no longer survive on "what-ifs." It will survive solely on action, collaboration, and believe it or not, the U.S Postal Service.

There's no denying that Americans feel hopeless, running scenes in our heads about what might have been or could be our future. And to keep ourselves sane and engaged while sheltered indoors, we are looking for every bit of light at the end of the tunnel — to regain even the simplest sense of control.

The good thing is — we have more control than we think. At home, in our lives, on the internet, we have all the power we could ever need to affect the future of our most sacred right as Americans — your right to vote.

We've seen how the coronavirus has brought America to a grinding halt and with it the majority of in-person voter mobilization efforts. The progressive movement, which typically reaches its full potential in the months leading up to November, is now sitting at home, waiting for the all-clear to resume the usual canvassing, phone banking, and general voter outreach activities.

However, we don't have time to waste. Donald Trump is actively pressuring states to restrict voting opportunities and preparing to deploy 50,000 "poll watchers" to suppress the vote of communities most likely to vote against him. So, to counter his efforts, we started Vote From Home 2020 to harness progressive momentum across the country and connect swing-state voters with vote-by-mail applications and ballots in the 2020 general election.

The initiative provides organizers and volunteers the digital and remote organizing tools they need to stay engaged by connecting voters in communities most vulnerable to voter disenfranchisement with vote-by-mail applications and ballots.  

We want to start with voters in key swing states like Michigan, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania; states that allow any voter to request a mail-in ballot without needing an excuse, but historically have meager rates of voters using this option, have the right to vote by mail amid a global pandemic properly.

Looking back, only 10.7 percent of voters in Michigan, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania voted by mail in 2016 and now, for the first time, every voter in these states has the opportunity to request a ballot without an excuse. Meanwhile, states such as Oregon, Colorado, Washington, Utah, and Hawaii conduct almost all of their elections by mail and have some of the highest voter turnout rates in the entire country.

The progressive movement is being challenged now more than ever to harness the grassroots momentum that every progressive campaign and operation depends on. Prioritizing outreach to communities of color and young voters in swing states to ensure they have the tools to participate in our democracy will be the upper hand the movement has been looking for.

Vote From Home 2020, powered by grassroots volunteers, will mail voters absentee ballot applications, instructions for filling them out, messaging on why voting by mail is safe and important, and pre-paid return postage for the application.

A strong vote-by-mail organizing operation will be a show of force that we still have civic good left in this country. It will require us to rally and to collaborate and come together in an unprecedented time when our national belief in our ability to do so is exceptionally low.

Vote-by-mail is not a one and done solution to the raging voter disenfranchisement rooted in America's election system, but it's a start. Research shows that the likelihood of voter participation increases by up to 7 percent of voters are urged to vote by mail. Additionally, like Vote From Home 2020 commits to doing, reminding voters up to two times to return their ballot increases the probability of voting by 4 percent.

No one should have to choose between their right to vote and their health. Progressives must claim this moment of uncertainty and regain control of a party that has lost its sense of urgency. The process starts with raising awareness, connecting people to ballot applications and making sure everyone across the nation has the opportunity to vote and vote this November safely.

Suzy Smith is the co-founder of Vote From Home 2020 and leads the team's communication efforts and online fundraising team. Most recently, Suzy was the Nevada State Director for Elizabeth Warren's presidential campaign. Suzy has worked as the executive director of Let America Vote and was a digital strategist for several campaigns and organizations. Follow her on Twitter @suzytweet.

Ben Smith is the co-founder of Vote From Home 2020 and serves as the organization's managing and organizing director, overseeing the internal operations and voter contact programs. Ben has a long history of campaign organizing for a host of Democratic candidates. Previously, Ben served as the National Field Director for Let America Vote. Follow him on Twitter @bhtyson.

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