There is a lot to unpack about election night.
The loss in Virginia is absolutely devastating.
Pennsylvania judges worked their asses off across that massive hodgepodge of a state. But Philadelphia only had an 18% turnout – that’s two points lower than the 2017 election before the critical importance of judges was thrust into the national spotlight.
And then there was the thing that kept me up all night sobbing and screaming into a pillow. Absolutely WAILING that I wanted to move back to Philadelphia: NEW JERSEY.
Fortunately, they have finally called the win for Murphy. It was the same red-mirage-mail-in situation we saw in 2020 as we waited for the mail-in votes to be counted. But it is going to be way closer than it should be.
I’m not going to talk about the candidates. I know there is a long history of progressives versus moderates, North Jersey versus South Jersey, and a lot of “rage against the machine.” I haven’t explored that territory long enough to give my personal take, but I’m very aware that these circumstances have created division that makes it harder to get out the vote.
So why else did we lose several seats in the state assembly, including one to a random truckdriver who ran solely because he wanted it to be easier to get a concealed carry permit? Why did no one come out in Philadelphia? Why did Virginia elect a lunatic?
This was a raging mess and I knew the polls were wrong. In fact, ELECTION POLLING NEEDS TO STOP BECAUSE IT IS A DISSERVICE TO ALL PARTIES.
How did I know things would go so royally wrong?
I knew when I saw the roads lined with signs and you told me that signs don’t vote.
I knew when the neighborhood Facebook groups were yelling about “critical race theory.”
And I told anyone who would listen when I spent two weeks solid text-banking on the New Jersey Democrats’ official campaign textbank.
So let’s start there:
WE NEED MUCH BETTER DIGITAL MESSAGING
Each day, I would log in to the NJDems text bank and cringe at the script.
“Vibe check! The vibe is, you haven’t voted, Paul!” and even worse “The category is: early voting realness”
The volunteers continued to get messages back from active Democrats complaining about the messaging, and its various levels of corniness, invasiveness, and downright appropriation. From the moment I saw that “early voting realness” I knew it was an appropriation of black queer culture. Realness literally means cis-passing in that context. This is not cute – it’s gross. And the voters let us know. And I let the text bank directors know. And they essentially told me to shut up.
Each day, I stepped in to correct the sloppy, dated information and the choices of canned responses that failed to give clear, timely direction. Each day they would repair one list but not the next one. And the cycle continued with only me and a couple of other keen-eyed volunteers to step in and say “Hey, shouldn’t this say Sunday and not Monday?” “Shouldn’t we say today and not tomorrow?”
And so I texted misguided “Hey, John, are we still on for tomorrow?” to mislabeled strangers who replied “Let’s Go Brandon!” a total of 35,000 times. I also contacted anyone I could find running field or digital to complain, and they either agreed and shrugged or, again, politely told me to shut up.
I didn’t have to be a professional political communicator to notice how incredibly bad this all was. But it certainly drove the mistakes into the depths of my soul.
Phil Murphy is a fantastic governor. There is a reason national media has lauded New Jersey as the best state in the nation. We have the best education system, a phenomenon healthcare system, a competent COVID response, and legal marijuana! Murphy should have been a shoo-in for a second term.
But rather than focus on even a word or two about the importance of the race and what’s at stake – or even just simply cut to the chase without the introductory bullshit – the Democrats in New Jersey decided to play cutesy, glib, and smug.
WE NEED TO TAKE BETTER CREDIT FOR OUR ACCOMPLISHMENTS
While all the media wants to focus on is how two Democratic Senators are obstructing some of the most progressive measures in the Build Back Better Bill, not enough people are talking about all the amazing good it does even in its most stripped-down form.
Universal preschool! The largest effort to combat climate change in American history! The biggest expansion of affordable healthcare in a decade! And SO MUCH MORE! But no one is talking about that. The media just wants to focus on Kristen Sinema in her quirky outfits inexplicably blocking paid leave. Yes, that is frustrating but why is perfect always the enemy of good with progressives?
Biden – and Murphy – and the Virginia Democratic trifecta did SO MUCH GOOD! Stop focusing on “We’re not Trump” and tout what we do well in big bold messaging! And, for God’s sake, say loud and clear that this whole Critical Race Theory debate is absolute bullshit! Stop being afraid to speak the truth!
BETTER OUTREACH TO BLACK VOTERS
Please stop taking the most dedicated base of Democratic voters in this country for granted and be crystal clear about what you have and will do for them. Defend diversity and inclusion education and stop brushing over it. Be clear about how you will fight gun violence in black neighborhoods. Be clear about expunging ridiculous marijuana convictions. Be clear that Black Lives Matter – not just with words, but with action.
BETTER OUTREACH TO ALL VOTERS, INCLUDING THE NEWLY REGISTERED
My husband and I registered to vote in New Jersey six months ago and did not receive a single call, text, or mailer. Not one. What I did receive was a text from a school board in a Philadelphia suburb where I have never lived, but did purchase my first cellphone in 1998. In 2021 we have no excuse to not have current, accurate data. Every time I phone or textbank, the numbers are massively wrong. Sure, we have to expect some wrong or dated information – but the widespread errors simply defy modern data management. We can definitely do better.
START COUNTING MAIL-IN VOTES EARLY TO AVOID THE RED MIRAGE
This one isn’t about how to win, but more about how to make it crystal clear that we won fair and square. New Jersey allowed mail-in ballots to be counted early in 2020. But, inexplicably, did not extend that law past a single election. So now we get Democrats up all night in a panic seeing only the election day votes come in, while Republicans are screaming that the mail-in votes are fake and illegal. There is no reason early mail-in counting shouldn’t be permanently legal in every state, which would create more transparency, avoid illusions, avoid costly recounts and legal battles, and ease the minds of people convinced that we are holding “fraudulent elections.”
We also need better civics education in school, more clarity about the importance of judges, and better education for everyone about what elected officials DO and DO NOT DO.
In the meantime, we all have work to do. I hope you will join me. And, of course, to those of you who did the work, you know who you are and I see you. We need each other more than ever. The 2022 election is less than a year away.