February 10, 2016; Washington Post
Six months ago, Democrats in support of Hillary Clinton for president pulled together $25 million to create a 501(c)(4) social welfare nonprofit organization, Every Citizen Counts. Ostensibly, the organization was formed in hopes of increasing voter turnout among African American and Latino voters. Even though its founders insist ECC will remain long after the 2016 elections are over, the source and timing of the organization and its activities are suspect.
Protection of the right to vote has been a key issue of Clinton’s presidential campaign, and with good reason. Minority voters, particularly women and Latino/Hispanic ethnic groups, are growing in America and have been crucial blocs in the past two presidential elections. Perhaps more importantly to ECC, minority voters favor Hillary Clinton in 2016 by huge margins, especially in states like South Carolina. During the 2008 presidential campaign, according to the Center for American Progress, women of color voters turned out in exceedingly great numbers for Democrats. Following suit, in 2012, women of color—specifically, African Americans—voted at a higher rate than any other gender, race, or ethnicity. It’s apparent that minority constituencies have the potential to make or break presidential hopefuls.
But can nonprofit organizations like Every Citizen Counts really amp up voter turnout for minorities? NPQ shared the results of a study from Nonprofit VOTE during the 2012 campaign that touted the influence nonprofit organizations can have on elections. The data showed that turnout increased when voters were contacted by nonprofits not affiliated with political parties or candidates. The social sector engaged diverse populations that were younger and from lower-income brackets that had low voter turnout in the past. Lastly, nonprofit organizations were successful at increasing turnout among underrepresented groups like Latino voters or voters under the ages of 30, i.e., the millennial generation.
With sound grassroots strategies, Every Citizen Counts has the potential to capture those audiences in their efforts to win the Democratic Party nomination for Clinton, but it will not be that simple. To wit, during the New Hampshire primary, her opponent Senator Bernie Sanders claimed the vote of 7 out of 10 women under the age of 45, although those women were predominantly white. Gaining the trust of younger ethnic and women voters is necessary for Hillary, and that could be a reason why her campaign hired former journalist and political pundit Zerlina Maxwell as its lead on Digital Progressive Outreach.
Every Citizen Counts will have to kick its get-out-the-vote efforts into overdrive for the next two contests at the Democratic caucuses in Nevada and South Carolina, both of which have sizable concentrations of minority voters. Projections posit that during the 2016 Nevada election, Latinos will encompass about 20 percent of voters and both African Americans and Asians will comprise about 9 percent.
Mobilizing voters to literally stand in support of a candidate during the Nevada Democratic caucus could prove difficult, given the nascence of caucusing in Nevada. Moreover, just a few short months ago conservatives in the Nevada Legislature were debating bills in a hearing around voter ID laws, which have been accused of systemic disenfranchisement of poor, homeless, and minority voters. The South Carolina Democratic Caucus could pose similar obstacles for Clinton, emphasizing the impact of the mission of Every Citizen Counts and its “focus on legislation, litigation, voter registration and turnout among black and Latino communities in the general election.”
Aside from get-out-the-vote efforts, ECC plans to solicit donations while maintaining the privacy of its donors, which stands in opposition to Clinton’s oft-stated desire to “end secret, unaccountable money in politics.” The development of nonprofit organizations with handsome budgets sourced with undetectable money to help promote political candidates has become the new normal. Tax-exempt entities like Every Citizen Counts are like kids in a candy store, in that they can accept unlimited—but nondeductible—donations from both individuals and corporations to promote their political agenda. But will fundraising be enough to engage the minority electorate to support Hillary Clinton in the November election? More importantly, is encouraging minority voting truly the mission of Every Citizen Counts, or is it merely a method to help achieve the mission of electing Hillary Clinton?—Ar’Sheill Monsanto