A week and a half before the 2022 midterm elections, there has been a lot of anxiety and uncertainty around the electoral process. Not only have there been a rash of voter intimidation tactics that early voters have experienced in states like Arizona, but there has also been extreme misinformation around the voter process, lessening people’s confidence in the voting process around election results.
This is why Run For Something political director Quentin Savwoir has been adamant about his organization’s fight to preserve Democracy. Since 2017, they’ve helped get 600 people elected to office. Their Clerk Work initiative is looking to recruit and train up to 5,000 election administrators within the next two years.
Figures like Savwoir have committed to the challenging work on the ground to make sure our Democratic processes don’t fall into the hands of figures who will only use it to their advantage.
The political director spoke to The Root about how Run For Something is fighting back against misinformation campaigns, how the organization is preparing its candidates against possible violence, and how vital the discussion is to preserving democracy.
The Root: Voters across the country have been rightfully focused on which party will control the House and Senate after midterm elections. However, it’s equally important to look at local and state representatives. These people will be certifying election results and ensuring voting registration forms are up to speed.
Many candidates tried to overturn or reject the results of the 2020 Presidential election. How does the mission of Run For Something intend to impede this so that we don’t backslide into a dangerous place?
Quentin Savwoir: Run For Something’s mission is to build a bench of future political leaders under the age of 40. They are also people of color that are, quite frankly, progressive and believe in the value of having a more equitable world. I think with our clerk work initiative, we have taken on this challenge.
I’m not just recruiting people to run for down-ballot office and local election administrator. It’s also been a matter of educating the public about why the office of election administrator is so important. For a long time, we’ve focused on those high-level offices like the Presidency or the Senate. The reality is that local election administrators protect our society and our way of life. If we don’t have pro-democracy people running elections, it’s a disruption no matter where you come from.
Many people believe that to run; you have to have some special degree or Ph.D. Not at all. You have to care about an issue in your community that you want to improve. In the case of an election administrator, you have to care about safe, fair, and accurate elections. It doesn’t require much more than that.
TR: In recent weeks, there has been a noticeable uptick in threats against voters and poll workers. In Arizona, there was an instance of voter intimidation referred to the DOJ. The NYPD put out a bulletin to be on high alert for the possibility of violence against election workers. How do you prepare your candidates to protect themselves against this?
QS: That’s one that I wrestled with in trying to figure out what is the best thing to share with our candidates. As a community organizer, I wonder how I best show up for people administering our elections. I think the most important thing that any of us can do is to speak out against misinformation and the seeds of distrust that are sown in our process.
A lot of times, we shy away from having those challenging conversations that might make folks uncomfortable. Confrontation does not have to equal violence. It can just mean, “okay, we have a difference in understanding. I appreciate your perspective, and I’m holding on to my own because that’s what a functional democracy does.” A functional democracy says you can have your idea, and I can have my idea. Then we’ll see as these ideas compete which view prevails. I think as adults, citizens, and Americans; we don’t do a good enough job of having challenging conversations.
I tell the people I work alongside to be uncomfortable or be comfortable having challenging conversations about democracy and speak in favor of fair, accurate, insightful elections. We want to ensure our candidates are attentive to their surroundings; If they encounter an intimidating voter, we’ve provided tips on language to use when they are verbally confronted. Seek assistance if you feel like you’re being violently threatened from local law enforcement that’s present or other community members. The tips and suggestions we have been providing haven’t been innovative. It’s just been reaffirming the things central to how we function as adults. That’s what democracy is.
TR: In speaking about misinformation, I’m sure that is something Run For Something candidates have had to fight back against. With this election circle, the lie that the 2020 Presidental election was stolen is still pervasive. You’ve even had some candidates say they will reject results outright. In your opinion, what is the best thing we can do to combat misinformation?
QS: I think the first important thing is setting public expectations. There are a lot more states now that do vote by mail than in previous cycles. The days of finding out the election results the night of are behind us. This is mainly because we want to ensure that things are being done fairly and accurately. We also need to realize democracy doesn’t do well on autopilot. It requires us to have conversations and be able to say something that is not valid. Having any civil society is being able to agree on fundamental things. The minute that we decide that we don’t care about one another enough to engage in what could be a conflicting conversation, that’s when you start to see the slow deterioration of democracy.
From there, we’ll find the fertile ground to have more challenging conversations, which will, over time, suppress this fire of misinformation that’s gotten out of hand in our country. I don’t know that it’s something that’s going to go away overnight. It makes me grateful for the work that Run For Something is doing and for identifying pro-democracy candidates. These candidates believe in accessible election cycle elections and accurate elections. It takes courage to run for office when misinformation is everywhere.
This interview has been edited for clarity.