May 4, 2021
EP. 103 — Democracy is in the Details with Tomas Lopez
Voting rights are under assault around the country. And while we tend to see “democracy” as a big, abstract noun, it’s the smallest, most mundane details that determine whether or not people actually have the right to vote. This week Adam sits down with Tomas Lopez, executive director of Democracy North Carolina, a non-partisan organization that works to expand ballot access and protect voting rights in one of the most gerrymandered states in the country. Learn more by visiting https://democracync.org.
103 — Democracy is in the Details with Tomas Lopez
Speaker 1 [00:00:02] Hello, welcome to Factually, I’m Adam Conover and thank you so much for listening. You know, a few folks often ask me lately, ‘How can I support the show?’ And I am here to answer that question. We have a couple safe, easy (and dare I say even fun) ways for you to support this show, help keep it going and help us pay the wonderful staff who help us make it for you. Number one is: if you listen to the show and you hear a guest who you love and they have a book for sale, why, you can buy a copy of that book at factuallypod.com/books. This is a special web store that we have set up through Bookshop.org (which is a non Amazon platform) and when you buy a book on this special shop, you not only support our show; you support your local bookstore as well. So check that out at factuallypod.com/books. I’m looking right here at some of the books y’all have bought; someone bought a copy of ‘Fashionopolis;’ Dana Thomas’s incredible book about the fashion industry. 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Yes, you’d love to chip in five bucks every now and again in order to support the show or if you hate the idea and you don’t want the option of doing so, I would love to hear from you. And I’d also love to hear your preferred platform. If you’d prefer to do this on Patreon or Apple or Spotify when their subscription option launches. So please, if you’re listening and you have an opinion on this, email me at Factually@AdamConover.net. Or even if you don’t have an opinion about it, I would love to hear from you. Email me at Factually@AdamConover.net and tell me what you think. OK, now let’s get to the show. You know, ‘democracy’ is a big word in America. It’s a word we use a lot without really thinking about what it means. It’s a big abstract noun that we pledge our love and devotion to at the beginning of baseball games and in the mornings before we learn long division, we all hold our hands to our hearts and pray to our great God; democracy. It’s the foundation of our constitution, our branches of government, and in many ways our sense of citizenship. But the daily reality of democracy is actually very small. It consists of tiny details and those details can sway the outcome of massive elections. Let me give you an example from my own life. Last election cycle, I was volunteering for a candidate for my local city council race here in L.A. Now in L.A., not a lot of people know about the city council race. I mean, some people do, the people who do really care about it. But I’m just going to go out on a limb and say, like 90 percent of people don’t even know what the fuck a city council member is, what they do or when they should vote for it. But despite that lack of knowledge and interest in the races, the position is extremely powerful. So the candidate I was volunteering for ran on a strategy of educating the public about how important this position was and explaining why they should vote for them. So here’s what we did; we would set up tables near a polling place and when people walked by on their way to the polling place, we would ask them if they knew who they were voting for, for city council. And if they said no, we would say, ‘OK, well, this is an incredibly important position. Here’s what it’s responsible for. It determines everything from the fight against homelessness to development in your neighborhood. And here’s a candidate who you could vote for and here’s what she stands for.’ If we were able to have that conversation, that person would go into the voting booth a lot more likely to check anything in that box at all because they were now aware of the race in the first place. It was a good strategy based on the kind of one-on-one, neighbor-to-neighbor interaction that really helps people take part in democracy in our civic society. But our ability to execute that strategy was entirely dependent on where the laws said that we could set up our tables. See, according to L.A. law, electioneering isn’t allowed within 100 feet of polling places in L.A. and that’s a good policy. You don’t want people campaigning right outside the door of the polling place. You want to make sure there’s a healthy distance there, but this meant that the physical architecture of the polling place determined so much about how we were able to campaign. At some polling places 100 feet away would position us right between the parking lot and the entrance to the polling place. But in other polling places where the sidewalk and parking lot were organized a little bit differently, the closest spot that was 100 feet away would be all the way across a busy street and we’d be stuck waving at people as they just walked in, completely ignoring us because we were four lanes of traffic away from them. We almost certainly got a lot less votes at polling places that were set up that way. My point is, these are small details, right? The law that says you have to be within this many feet away, the organization of the sidewalk versus where the parking lot is; all those little details had a huge impact on the vote total. Now, this is just a little example from my own life, but the truth is that the rules make all the difference in American democracy. Rules that were not written to benefit one party or the other, but have a vast effect on the outcome. Now think about all the other rules that determine American democracy. My God, there are thousands of them. For instance, in America we have to sign up to vote. You have to register to vote on purpose. Doesn’t happen automatically. But if we were to institute automatic voter registration, it could add more than 22 million newly registered voters to the rolls. And that would change the outcome of our elections. Getting rid of felony disenfranchisement laws would also add more than six million voters. Or just think about how the fact that Election Day is not a national holiday affects who can and can’t vote. Some people can’t leave work because they’re too busy, others have to take care of their children and aren’t able to make it out to the polls. Those people still have the right to vote as laid out in the Constitution. But the rules that we have implemented around voting (and the fact that it’s not a national holiday) determines whether or not they are actually able to vote. It doesn’t really matter what George Washington and Thomas Jefferson wrote down with their inky quills on that old piece of parchment; unless those moms can find some babysitters that night they are not going to be able to vote. Even something as simple as how the ballots are designed can make a difference. Do you remember the infamous butterfly ballot from the 2000 election in Florida? It was a ballot that was so confusingly designed that it led thousands of people to accidentally punch a ballot for Pat Buchanan instead of Al Gore in Palm Beach County in Florida, which ended up giving the entire election to George W. Bush. So that butterfly had a major effect. The point is that our ideals about democracy as enshrined in the Constitution and the amendments that expanded them, are wonderful. But the ideals are not enough. The rules we make around democracy dictate the results. A tiny impediment to voting can be effective disenfranchisement for a huge swath of the population, whether it’s a ballot that’s too hard to read or a polling place that closes too early. There’s a reason that the recent law passed in Georgia to tamp down on voting rights was so petty as to restrict people from giving food and water to voters waiting in line to vote. Because something that small, just a thirsty mouth or a rumbly tummy could really be enough to stop people from voting and sway the results of an election. As much press as that law in Georgia has gotten, this issue is not at all new. Sure, America has expanded the vote to more and more people over time. But think about this: it’s only since the 1960’s and the Voting Rights Act that we’ve even really attempted to be a full democracy that allowed all people to vote. As long as we voted, there has been a battle over who gets to vote and what the rules around voting are with the express purpose of stopping certain people from voting and ensuring election outcomes for certain politicians. With the rise in voter disenfranchisement bills across the country, there’s no question that the battle continues today. But as long as those in power have been fighting to stop people from voting, there have been courageous folks fighting to expand the franchise and expand voting rights/voting access to as many people as possible. My guest today is someone on the right side of this fight. His name is Tomas Lopez and he’s the executive director of Democracy North Carolina. Democracy North Carolina is a nonpartisan organization that uses research and organizing and advocacy to increase voter participation, reduce the influence of big money in politics, and try to expand voting access to everyone in their state. I’m thrilled to have him on the show. Please welcome Tomas Lopez. Tomas, thank you so much for being here.
Speaker 2 [00:10:10] Sure, thanks for having me.
Speaker 1 [00:10:11] So just give me a brief overview of what Democracy North Carolina does
Speaker 2 [00:10:19] Sure, so Democracy North Carolina; we’re a nonpartisan organization. We’re not affiliated with any political party, any political candidate. We’re focused on democracy with a lowercase D. Right? The idea that every one of us has a stake in the political process and that stake in the political process is tied to so many of the other things that we think are important. And so, we’re really trying to do a few things at once. One is strengthen our state’s democratic structures: our right to vote, our representation through things like redistricting and also the ways in which big money can end up affecting our political process too. Second is we’re trying to get people involved in the political process. And again, lower case P politics. Not so much thinking about red team or blue team (although we have a point of view on the world) but what does it mean to be engaged in your community in an effective way to try to achieve a just and equitable community and state? And then the third is we’re really interested in advancing the idea that democracy is worth the effort, that it’s worth a fight and that it’s worth transforming. So there are a lot of promises that are loaded up in that word. And in many ways, we as a country have failed to meet them but it doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t be working to achieve them now.
Speaker 1 [00:11:42] So it sounds like you’re doing work that is both on the big end of democracy (reform, litigation, redistricting – those are state level) and you’re doing on the ground knocking on doors, helping people get registered to vote – that sort of person-to-person kind of thing.
Speaker 2 [00:11:58] That’s exactly right.
Speaker 1 [00:11:59] And so tell me about what the situation is in North Carolina. My understanding is that North Carolina, as far as voting rights go, is – I’m not going to put too fine a point on it: one of the most fucked up states in terms of voting rights in the country?
Speaker 2 [00:12:12] I mean, it’s up there in some ways. I mean, what’s interesting about North Carolina is that in some ways North Carolina has been ahead of the game. And that is what has made it (especially over the last 10 years) one of the places that you could call ground zero in the fight over voting access.
Speaker 1 [00:12:27] Tell me about that.
Speaker 2 [00:12:28] So what we have in North Carolina is a state that, like much of the country (including particularly the South), has a long history of systemic racism, long history of segregation, people being deliberately and structurally excluded from not just the political process but public and economic life generally. What you had in the latter half of the 20th century was some advances that did increase participation in politics and voting, from Black North Carolinians in particular. And in the 2000’s, a series of reforms to the political process that actually made voting more accessible in North Carolina and increased turnout in the state compared to many others, not just regionally but even around the country. So in North Carolina during that period, we were able to achieve a 17 day period for early in-person voting, which is a lot longer than a lot of states have. We were also able to achieve the ability for people to register to vote during that early voting period, which again, is something that you don’t often see in a lot of the country. And even the ability for 16 and 17 year olds to (at the time when they’re signing up for a driver’s license) get what they call ‘pre-registered’ to vote. So this idea basically that you fill out the paperwork and when you turn 18, there’s nothing left for you to do. All of those things led North Carolina voters to show up in big numbers in the 2000’s and particularly 2008. In 2008, Barack Obama carried North Carolina. This is a politically diverse state. It’s been one that people have identified as a battleground state and presidential/senatorial/gubernatorial elections. And so that political background is really important to understanding why, in particular, we’ve seen efforts to make voting more difficult. In the 2010s, this state was one of a whole group that saw really comprehensive, not seen for a generation or more, efforts to make voting more complicated. In 2013, we had a law that was passed that said, ‘OK, remember that early voting? We’re going to cut that down by a week. Remember that same day registration? We’re going to get rid of that. Remember that pre registration? We’re gonna get rid of that, too.’.
Speaker 1 [00:14:47] Wow.
Speaker 2 [00:14:47] And on top of that, we’re also going to make sure that you have to show a particular, strict kinds of photo ID in order to vote. That passed in 2013 and a few years later in 2016, the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals (a US federal appeals court) was hearing a lawsuit over this law and they actually threw out a lot of that law. And at the time, what the court said was, ‘We’re looking at the way this was passed. We see this voter ID requirement and we see that the kinds of IDs that are required are less commonly held by voters of color. We see that you’ve eliminated the first week of early voting and we see that that first week of early voting is especially used by black voters. And we see that there is a design throughout this statute.’ This, again, was the 2013 law that, in the words of the court ‘targeted black voters with [what they called] ‘almost surgical precision.’ That’s a judicial quotation and it’s one people who are in North Carolina have heard a lot over the last few years. But the reason why is because it’s so powerful and so telling. What we’ve seen since then is that a renewed effort around voter ID. So there was a new voter ID law passed that’s now being litigated in the courts. We have seen continued tussles over ‘what is the scope of early voting?’ ‘What is the scope of same day registration?’ And these are all happening with similar fights happening elsewhere around the country. And the national context of that, we can get into that as well, where it’s no accident that states like North Carolina and Georgia and Texas have put forward some of the things that they’ve done over the last few years because of the loss of certain protections that we used to have under federal law.
Speaker 1 [00:16:41] You had basically expanded voting in North Carolina. Then Barack Obama wins and then suddenly an effort to clamp down on the voting, on early voting and things like that. Voter ID, I’ve heard the justification for that before, it’s always justified by voter fraud (for which there’s very little evidence of – of wide scale voter fraud being an issue) – this is constantly being litigated in the media. We don’t need to get to that piece of it. But in terms of, when you’re a legislator putting forward a bill that says ‘We’re going to cut a week of early voting,’ what was the justification given for that?
Speaker 2 [00:17:12] Again, back in 2013, one of the legislators said that this was framed as voting reform. This was framed as something to bring uniformity to voting, that was framed as some degree of making voting more efficient. But the other thing they said was in light of a Supreme Court ruling that took away certain amounts of federal oversight over voting. That would have required North Carolina’s law to get approved before it could be implemented. The words that were used at the time were, ‘Well, now that that’s gone – Now we can go with the full bill.’ This was a bill that was passed explicitly with the idea that they didn’t think they could get it passed when the US Department of Justice or federal court had to approve voting laws in states like North Carolina and others that were covered by the full protections of the Voting Rights Act.
Speaker 1 [00:18:10] So the justification was the Supreme Court has removed the provision of the Voting Rights Act that says we can’t do this. So now we can. And that’s why we’re going to do it
Speaker 2 [00:18:20] More or less.
Speaker 1 [00:18:23] That’s pretty baldfaced. I assume we’re going to get into a conversation about gerrymandering as well. The big problem with gerrymandering, the way that I’ve always framed it when I talk about it, is that gerrymandering is a process by which politicians choose their voters. ‘We draw the districts and we’ll draw them around the voters that we want, because those are the ones who we think will vote for us. And we can therefore shape the State House or the congressional delegation around the voters.’ And we should not like that in a democracy, it should be the other way around. Power should flow from the people. The elected shouldn’t choose who is voting for them. This sounds very similar that; you’ve lost an election. You put forward a bill to reshape who is able to vote, just in time rather than in space.
Speaker 2 [00:19:13] Yeah, they’re pretty transparent political motivations behind a lot of these laws, right? And this is exactly what we’re seeing right now. It was very recently that Georgia, the state of Georgia, passed legislation to make voting more difficult there. The provision in that bill that is really getting a lot of attention right now is a ban on individuals assisting people standing in line, to provide them food or water. It is not an accident that this is being introduced in light of both the outcome of the 2020 election cycle, but also the background of that in terms of what we heard both in the run up to the election and especially after about unfounded theories around voter fraud or related conspiracies.
Speaker 1 [00:20:03] Now, you’ve seen that’s a reference to the law that was recently passed in Georgia, which has made national news. Have you seen any efforts like that in in North Carolina?
Speaker 2 [00:20:13] We’ve seen some of that in North Carolina. What we’ve had is a bill that was just introduced that would change some of the deadlines – for instance for absentee voting. in North Carolina, you can submit your absentee ballot a few days – if you submit your absentee ballot by Election Day but the election officials don’t get it till a few days later, that ballot still counts. They want to make it so that it has to be in the election official’s hand on Election Day at 5:00 p.m. Potentially thousands of people with their ballots not counting. You have another bill that was just introduced that is pretty transparently an effort to target certain people from being removed from the voter rolls. So this is a little more complicated to explain, but basically what it would do is: require the state board of elections to identify people from the voter rolls who’ve been excused from jury service because they said they weren’t US citizens and then releasing the names of people who’ve been excused from jury service as non citizens. Putting that in, making the information available. So there are actually two angles on that: one is you’re using this really inaccurate information to just throw people off of the voting rolls, a fact that many people may not find out about until they try to vote. And then second, you’re creating a list of people (whether or not accurate) what you’re basically saying ‘Oh, yeah, these people are non citizens,’ in a highly sensitive time for our immigrant communities. And we’re just going to publish that information, your name, address, your birth date and put that out in the world.
Speaker 1 [00:21:53] So let me ask you this before – because I have a ton I want to ask you, but it’s sort of a looming question that I have based on what we were just talking about. You said at the beginning that you’re a nonpartisan group. How do you maintain that or how do you square that with the fact that so many of these moves are specifically partisan in nature that you’re talking about; greater voter restrictions were put in as a response to an election happening. And when, to be honest the folks who are pushing for greater election access, that is a project that is aligned with the Democratic Party currently. Now, I’m not saying you can’t be nonpartisan in that space, but it seems a little tricky. What is your approach to that?
Speaker 2 [00:22:37] I mean, it’s definitely tricky. I think there was a time as recently as 15 years ago where voting rights were a relatively bipartisan issue. The Voting Rights Act passed the Senate, the reauthorization of the Voting Rights Act, passed the Senate by 98 to 0 vote in 2006 when it was signed into law by George W. Bush.
Speaker 1 [00:23:01] Wow.
Speaker 2 [00:23:03] And it was only seven years after that, that North Carolina’s what we call the ‘monster law’ passed.
Speaker 1 [00:23:10] Wow.
Speaker 2 [00:23:12] When I look at where we are today, it is true that elected officials from the Democratic Party are talking much more effectively and much more meaningfully about voting rights than a lot of Republican leaders. A lot of the bad ideas are being introduced by Republicans, being signed in place for Republicans. We have to acknowledge that. That is the reality of what’s happening there. And we see a partisan motivation behind it. But the way that we do it is, we’re not trying to get in the middle of elections themselves to tell people – that’s kind of above our pay grade, to say ‘How are you going to cast your vote?’ But when it comes to saying, ‘Look, we have a side in this issue, in this debate right now over what becomes law and what doesn’t,’ we’re going to come out and vote in support of voting rights every time. That’s how we try to walk that line. It’s not always easy, especially in the height of an election.
Speaker 1 [00:24:06] I would also have to say that, at this current place in time (in North Carolina and nationally) we are in a system where one party tends to want to increase voting access and one party seems to tend to restrict it. But it’s not necessarily going to stay that way. I think it’s very natural for politicians to want to pick their voters, no matter who they are. We’ve seen cases where – look at primaries, where there have been plenty of accusations where the Democratic Party in a primary will try to change the voting rules to disfavor one candidate over another. There was a lot of chatter about that out of New York, about the last Democratic primary, among Bernie Sanders supporters saying that the polls were being run in such a way that it was an attempt to disenfranchise them. We don’t need to get into that. But you can imagine that maybe things will change. Maybe that party balance will change in a couple of years. But you’ll still be for the principle: that more voting access for more people, make voting easier, make voting more accessible as as a principal, would you not?
Speaker 2 [00:25:15] That’s right. I think that party balance not only may change, but it has changed. If you look at the really long view over the history of voting legislation and voting access in the United States. The segregation, in terms of voting, remained in place for many years because of an alliance that involved Southern Democrats. It took bipartisan support to overcome that in 1965 to pass the Voting Rights Act. Now the common thread from 1965 and everything that led up to it and where we are now, is the thread of racial justice. That we talk about voting access and we talk about representation. We are talking about who gets to have a say in the life of our communities, in our country. And at each step of the way, every time political access has been contested the central question is what voice do nonwhite people have?
Speaker 1 [00:26:18] One thing that baffles me, especially when you put it that way, again, is there any sensible argument for restricting voting rights? If you have them, is there any argument that to you even is internally consistent? That you might say ‘This here is a good faith argument about why voting should be restricted to only on the day, in person, extremely restrictive absentee ballots, all those sorts of things.’ Is there a principled reason that someone might push for that? Or is it only an attempt to exclude people of color or other people who one might not want to vote in order to, again, choose your voters rather than the other way around?
Speaker 2 [00:27:04] So one of the backdrop points that I actually think is helpful for us to talk through a little bit is how complicated elections are from the perspective of the people who run them. We’ve been talking here and I often think about it and talk about voting rights, redistricting, as fundamental rights issues, as a racial justice issue. And one of the things I learned when I began becoming involved in this work as a voting rights attorney was understanding just how technical and dry and really intricate the work is, of running an election. I have a lot of appreciation in a way that I really could not have without being in this work, the work of the people who just even work at voting locations or the people who are able to say, ‘OK, we got to get this many voting machines to the school and this many machines to the church. And we’ve got to process the ballots and they all have to go through this five step process in order for this to happen.’ Actually I think if people understood more about some of that stuff, they might have more of an appreciation of just how difficult it is to defraud the voting system. Because there are a lot of people who work really hard to have this in place that prevent the things that all this stuff is purported to try to address. And so I do sometimes hear arguments that say, ‘Well, we want to make sure that elections are managed consistently and in a way that works for the people who are running them.’ My response to that is, I agree. And that’s why we should be resourcing elections in an effective way, that we shouldn’t be trying to run elections on the cheap. That this is one of the most important functions of government and we should be giving them the resources they need to be effective, which also includes things like making sure there’s enough money to have enough places where people can go vote with staff to assist people as needed.
Speaker 1 [00:29:11] Yeah, but one of the things that answer highlights for me though is how much the physical reality of how an election is organized fundamentally affects the outcome. I did a lot of volunteer work with a campaign here for city council in Los Angeles. I spent time tabling, I made phone calls, stuff like that – really, really grassroots stuff. And it made me realize how much the outcome of an election is determined by all of those physical features and not whether or not people like the candidate, what they think about their positions, et cetera. It’s like, do people know the race is happening? Is it on a day that they have off? Did they have a way to get there? How did they deliver their ballot? Was it raining that day? You know, all of these tiny little things. Was it a – what was what’s the method by which the ballot is filled out? If it’s a paper ballot that you get at home, what order do the names come in? A really big thing in our city council election because L.A. has, frankly, too many elected officials, and so the elected official has their name and then they put a little occupation under their name on the ballot. So it’ll say, if someone’s running for school board, they’ll put ‘Susie Doe.’ And then underneath, if it says ‘teacher,’ she’ll get a lot more votes. That is an enormously important part of the election that nobody even thinks about. And so the question is, ‘How do you choose what name goes underneath? Does the candidate have free reign? Is someone vetting the occupation that they put underneath?’ There was a dude in California who literally changed his name to Judge because he thought it would make it more likely for him to get elected as judge. So he was Judge Sam Whatever. Now that’s a funny example. But there are all these different things that matter so much. And I don’t know, it just makes me think that it’s hard to separate this from the outcome of the election because this is what determines the outcome of elections. The election that I volunteered for was won simply because the candidate was able to mobilize people to show up and to make them aware the election was happening on this day and to make them look on their ballot below president. And that’s like as much about making the election function well as it is about saying ‘Hey, here are my ideas for how to run the city.’ The work that you’re doing is almost the foundational work that determines who gets elected in the first place.
Speaker 2 [00:31:57] I mean, I think we do think about it that way. There are so many moving pieces that go into an election. Elections are in some ways like customer service events, you want the voter to have a good experience. But there’s also all this back office stuff that you wouldn’t think matters that, in fact, can affect an outcome. I’ll give you an example from outside North Carolina. So before I was in my role here at Democracy North Carolina, I was an attorney at a national organization, the Brennan Center for Justice; they work nationally on voting rights issues and some other related issues. And I remember when I was there, this was years ago, New York City had this ballot for mayor. And in New York City, the threshold to get on the mayoral ballot and for a party to get on the mayoral ballot (at least at the time) was something that was relatively achievable. You didn’t just have the big famous parties right? The Republicans and the Democrats. You didn’t even just have, the well-known third parties: working families, green, the Conservative Party of New York. You had something called the flower party. You had the pro marijuana party. I mean, one guy got meme-ified, right? The rent is too damn high party.
Speaker 1 [00:33:12] Oh, yeah. Jimmy McMillan.
Speaker 2 [00:33:14] Yeah, that’s right.
Speaker 1 [00:33:14] Underappreciated. We all made fun of Jimmy. I talk about this all the time. We all made fun of Jimmy McMillan. They made fun of on SNL. The rent is too damn high. And guess what? He was fucking right. The rent is too damn high. And he coined a political slogan that people still use. People still say that. Jimmy McMillan, weird guy and there’s some other stuff in his political history I’m not a fan of. I’m sorry. I just love Jimmy McMillan for that. And I think he deserves more credit for his run for mayor.
Speaker 2 [00:33:43] But that was I’m getting at here. New York State, at least the at the time (I’m not totally up on what the latest is, I don’t think this has changed) had these very particular rules about how a ballot is supposed to look. And so what that meant was they had to squeeze these twenty candidates into the rules that existed under state law. And so if you were a voter presented with this ballot, and say you wanted to vote – what they were doing was, they had to end up listing all the mayoral candidates in a block together: where there was a row of eight, a row of eight, and then a row of five or something. And so some of them were in a column together. Lot of voters will look at a ballot and they’ll say, ‘OK, I’m going to go vote down the line, I want to vote my party. I’m going to vote all the candidates of the party.’ But if you didn’t pay close attention to what the ballot said, you end up voting for more than one candidate for mayor. Say you’re a pretty progressive New Yorker who ascribes to the values of the Working Families Party, which is a progressive organization that works in many other places. You could end up choosing a candidate that’s not from the WFP line because you didn’t notice that the worker below, the candidate, below was someone else. Say you voted for the Conservative Party, right? Right wing party. Turns out that the candidate for mayor back on that ballot a few years ago who was below the Conservative Party of New York candidate was the candidate from the Socialist Workers Party. And, you know, the way it works is that if you bubbled in both, your vote doesn’t count.
Speaker 1 [00:35:23] Yeah. And it’s just the simple design of the paper ballot. I have another example that just puts me in mind of when I voted in an election in New York City, a number of years ago. When I grew up in New York, they had the really awesome ka-chunk ka-chunk machine. They had a big machine where you would go in, pull the lever, the lever would automatically close the curtain and then you have flip the things down – it was really old fashioned, it was like voting with a typewriter, you were walked inside a giant typewriter. It was awesome. Then they switched to a digital touch screen system. And the first year that I voted in one of those elections, when I registered, I had to sign. And then when I went to go vote, they said, ‘Oh, your signature doesn’t match.’ And I was like, ‘What? I mean, that’s my signature. I can see it right there.’ And what had happened, was I have kind of a big signature and it had gone outside the box, which normally I don’t do. But it had cropped the signature, so that the top of the A was cut off and et cetera. And I was like, ‘I’ve used computers.’ So I was looking at it going ‘Clearly this just cropped my signature. That’s like eighty percent of my signature there, cropped out the top of the A in the C’ and they were like, ‘I don’t know, doesn’t look the same.’ They called someone over, it was an extra 15 minutes and I was able to cast my ballot. But just a little technical thing like that is able to prevent people from voting. And it’s not theoretical, right? That is what determines elections, almost more than people looking at a candidate and saying, ‘Oh, I like this person’s policies,’ who is able to get out and vote, who’s vote ends up getting counted and whether or not – Another really good example is the way that this city council race was won, was we went and tabled outside of the voting places and there’s restrictions of where you can be, you can only be this many feet away. And you could tell most people are walking in; they don’t even know what a city council person is. They’ve never heard of the race. So if they see our table, they’re much more likely to vote in the race. Some of the polling places I tabled at, to get within the number of feet away, you ended up being across the street or you ended up being not within the path that people took to walk to the voting place and those places I’m sure that we got many less votes simply for that reason. Because of this weird physical anomaly in how the rules affected the tabling outside in this particular case. So little tiny tweaks can make a massive difference. I’ve said that three or four different ways.
Speaker 2 [00:38:01] It raises this kind of overarching point which is that so much of what we think about in terms of protecting people’s right to vote, when we have these narratives about these big sweeping laws that do bad things; they operate in really little ways. It’s the cumulative effect. Our organization runs a hotline for people who have questions during the voting season. And we got fourteen thousand calls between Labor Day and just after Election Day. The number one thing we get questions about is ‘where do I go vote?’ ‘Where do I go, am I registered?’ And that’s it and that helps people, right? You give people that information. ‘OK, let’s look up your information. Let’s let’s see. It’s early voting? OK, can go anywhere in your county. Here are the places, or it’s election day? OK, you got to go to this elementary school and that’s where you go vote.’ There is a lot for us to fight about and yet there is a lot that we need not fight about that we can achieve that can actually really make a difference too.
Speaker 1 [00:39:09] Yeah, OK, I have so many more questions for you. I want to specifically ask you about gerrymandering, and I want to ask you about the specific work that you do and find out more about it. But let’s take a super quick break. We’ll be right back with more Tomas Lopez. OK, we’re back with Tomas Lopez. I have so much more I want to ask you. I want to make sure we talk about gerrymandering. North Carolina is often talked about when we talk about gerrymandering. Tell me a little bit about it. How bad is it and what are you doing about it? If you’re able to do anything about it
Speaker 2 [00:39:45] I think we’ll start from square one just in case someone is really not familiar with this stuff. Gerrymandering, the term goes back centuries, but it’s the idea that basically under the law, under the US Constitution – Every 10 years we have a census. And once that census is done, state governments have to draw the lines for the members of Congress. So you’re a member of Congress. You have to have a district. A district needs to have geographic boundaries. It was discovered relatively early on in this process that you could draw lines in ways to say, ‘Hey, there are people that live over in this part of town that I think are more likely to vote for me or people who are in that part of town or are more likely to vote for me. So I’m going to just squiggle the lines in such a way that doesn’t necessarily make it so that’s a united community, but it helps me win.’ And that is what matters, that’s gerrymandering. And we see that when it comes to Congress, we see that in our state legislatures. We see that in our school districts and our city councils. The process of drawing these kinds of district lines happens in all kinds of bodies. And what ends up happening is that over the years and it has become as bad as it’s ever been, this has been a tool of depriving certain voters (again, especially nonwhite voters, especially on top of that, black voters) of political power.
Speaker 1 [00:41:14] Yeah.
Speaker 2 [00:41:14] So how does that work? What ends up happening is, you have these redistricting processes that are supposed to happen on a set calendar and there are certain protections that actually exist in the law against gerrymandering. You’re not supposed to be able, for instance, to draw lines in such a way that denies voters of color the opportunity to elect their candidates of choice. So there’s a certain framework you’ve got to work in. The stuff that we’re seeing now builds on decades of law and policy work. And in many ways, it’s a game of cat and mouse. North Carolina in the 2010s, was one of a wave of states where advances in technology and the dropping of a lot of pretense led to really stark distortion between the districts that were created (again, for Congress and state legislatures) and the will of the voters. So I’ll give you an example; there are two kinds of things you sometimes hear about. One is called cracking and the other is called packing
Speaker 1 [00:42:23] I was going to ask about this, please continue
Speaker 2 [00:42:24] So packing is the idea that says, ‘OK, the law has got to make sure that Latino voters in this part of my state are able to elect their candidates of choice. So let’s draw the line in this weird snake shape so that it’s taking me from five different parts of five different towns.’ And we’re saying, ‘OK, you all get to vote for your candidate of choice’
Speaker 1 [00:42:50] Around the Latino areas.
Speaker 2 [00:42:51] Right, exactly. And so they’ll take people that aren’t necessarily a part of the same geographic or other kind of committee, pull them together on the basis of that and say, ‘Hey, look, we’re complying with the law.’ But what they’re doing is if they had drawn the lines in a different way, those people could have had a choice in electing candidates in three districts instead of one.
Speaker 1 [00:43:14] Yeah, crap. You take all of the Latinx people, you put them in one district and then they get to basically elect one state representative or council member or House representative, whatever it is, which ends up being a vast minority in the state or national legislature. So you’ve got your representative but they can’t actually get anything done. You’ve ensured permanent majority for you if it works that way
Speaker 2 [00:43:46] That’s one way of diluting actual political power. The other way that we see is called cracking. And it’s a pretty famous and telling example from the last decade in North Carolina. There is an historically black university in North Carolina, ANC university in Greensboro, it’s one of the bigger cities in the state, an historic school. And the way in one of the maps (that was eventually thrown out) the congressional districts were drawn such that the line between two congressional districts went right through the middle of the North Carolina ANC campus. So that the black students in North Carolina ANC could not pool their votes in such a way to influence an election in a single district
Speaker 1 [00:44:37] Right, so because all these black students are together we’re going to split them up. So now they’re two different districts and there’s not going to be enough of them to influence in this wider district that we’ve sort of diluted them in.
Speaker 2 [00:44:49] Yeah. And so what you end up seeing are things where – you’ll look state wide, I think in North Carolina we had something close to (over the past few cycles) something close to 50-50 outcomes in terms of state and legislative races, in terms of the number of votes candidates get. But then you see that 50-50 outcome, but a clear Republican majority, right? It’s even more stark in a place like Wisconsin. There have been instances where there are a sub 50 percent vote total still leads to a over 50 percent majority in terms of the number of seats that are there and that swings not just individual seats, but whole chambers and then policy outcomes for years to come.
Speaker 1 [00:45:37] Yeah. Which, by the way, then depending on how the state does its redistricting means that party is able to redistrict the next time and maintain that power imbalance almost indefinitely. And there are states in which Democrats have also gerrymandered. I want to be clear about that. So what is the solution to this? ‘What is the solution’ is asking you to answer a very complex problem with a very simple answer. What I’m trying to say is what is the fair way to district? If you’re saying that it’s bad to pack minority folks all into one district so they only get to elect one person. But it’s also bad to split that district up to dilute the vote because then you’re able to minimize the amount of say they have. OK, let’s just make sure that we have a very small minority and a bunch of different districts of people of color or of really any group like that. By the way, this can also be done – gerrymandering can also be done to white people as well. You could do it to a bunch of white people from one party and say, ‘OK, this this college town, which is full of white people is very progressive or this is very conservative. Let’s pack or crack that.’ What is a fair principle on which to district? What do you advocate?
Speaker 2 [00:46:52] Yeah, so I would say number one, you’re right, the sort of abusing the redistricting system is something we have seen across the political spectrum historically. And it happens that because of political outcomes that we’ve seen in the last decade, that we’ve seen a lot more of this abuse in recent years on the right than on the left and at a higher level of extremity, in part because of these advances in technology. In many ways you’re looking at an imperfect issue and you’re not going to have a totally perfect solution. But when I look at redistricting (and a lot of folks who look at this with say the same thing), that the core issue is that you can’t reconcile the fact that the same people who draw the lines are the same people who then run for office on those same lines. And the most promising solutions that we’ve seen have been through independent redistricting systems. So that’s actually something that exists in California, in Arizona, in a number of states. And the path forward then is to create systems where you’re separating legislators from their own maps being drawn. I mean, it’s that old fox in the henhouse kind of thing.
Speaker 1 [00:48:17] Yeah, this is very straightforward. It’s like, what if you are playing a basketball game and the ref is on one of the teams.
Speaker 2 [00:48:26] That’s exactly right.
Speaker 1 [00:48:27] That team is going to win. You need the game to be refereed by someone who’s independent or maybe it’s hard to say ‘All right, let’s find let’s find someone in America who isn’t a Republican or a Democrat, but is truly independent.’ Well, you could have a committee made up of equal members of equal parties. Various schemes you can do
Speaker 2 [00:48:47] Yeah, and different states are trying or have tried different things; fully independent, independent with a legislature. In North Carolina, the position we’ve taken is to say, ‘Hey, we want to have one of these independent redistricting systems. We want to take this completely out of the legislature’s hands and to be able to say, ‘Let’s have an independent body do it and let the legislature handle the business of legislating.’ So that’s where we are on that. But I think when people look at it, they also say, ‘Well, why can’t we just pass a law about it?’ And it’s because different states all do this in a different way and changing the law on this in different states can be very different. Some of the states you have to change the Constitution, and what it means to change the Constitution can be very different from one state to the next. And so it really is a a patchwork. We’ve got 50 states and we’ve got 50 different ways in which we have to address at least the state level redistricting. Addressing congressional redistricting is something that the federal government could do.
Speaker 1 [00:49:51] Yeah, and what’s unfortunate is that – So my understanding is that racial gerrymandering is illegal. But partisan gerrymandering, you can say ‘We’re redistricting in order to favor Republicans.’ That is not illegal yet. And the Supreme Court had an opportunity to make it illegal. And they punted and then Anthony Kennedy retired and now it’s not going to happen. It’s my understanding, am I right about that?
Speaker 2 [00:50:13] You more or less nailed it. In North Carolina, we actually had a prominent legislator who’s involved in redistricting say ‘We are drawing these maps not with any kind of racial animus in mind.’ The exact words he used was, ‘We’ve drawn these maps to achieve [it was something like] 10 Republican members of Congress and 3 Democrats. And the reason we did that is because we couldn’t get to 11 and 2.’
Speaker 1 [00:50:48] (laughing) Yeah, can’t get more blunt than that. Yeah.
Speaker 2 [00:50:50] And he said that to try to say ‘There is nothing in the law against partisan gerrymandering. We’re not discriminating against black people. We’re discriminating against Democrats and there’s nothing against the law in doing that.’ In fact, what the US Supreme Court has said is that gerrymandering is a really big problem but in their judgment partisan gerrymandering is not something barred by the US Constitution. And so now where the fight has gone is to the states and to these state courts. Only recently, a couple of years ago, the state of Pennsylvania said partisan gerrymandering in that state; it doesn’t fly. There was a court ruling here in North Carolina, it was a lower court ruling but it said ‘Your partisan gerrymander, we’re tossing it. You got to try something new.’ And so that remains a live issue, although, again, not currently at the US Supreme Court
Speaker 1 [00:51:43] But this is something that even at the state’s many politicians are still fighting. I mean, there was a referendum in Michigan, I believe, to end partisan gerrymandering and to do an independent commission and that won. But it’s still very contentious. I think in Arizona was the state where politicians took their own voters to court in order to still be able to partisan gerrymander. I don’t want to get it wrong.
Speaker 2 [00:52:10] No, but you’re right. Before my time at Democracy North Carolina, I worked on what’s called an amicus brief, where I wasn’t directly involved in the case. But we were involved sort of on the side of the independent redistricting commission in Arizona. Arizona’s own legislature (this was back earlier in the decade) sued Arizona’s independent redistricting commission under the theory that independent redistricting commissions were unconstitutional. And at the time, the US Supreme Court said this is totally fine – so good job US Supreme Court at the time. And they were really trying to work on a really strict definition of the word ‘legislature’ that we could really sort of nerd out, go down a whole rabbit hole down that. But suffice it to say, that was upheld then but that was also a different court that we have now. I think over the next few years, I think we’re going to continue to see a lot of these fights continue, not just legislatively but in the courts, too.
Speaker 1 [00:53:19] Yeah, well, before I move to what on the ground your group does, I still just have this larger question about how politics works; because it seems to me the more I learn about politics (as I was saying earlier) there is a degree to which all politics is working within the electoral system, changing how the electoral system works in order to win your outcome. And that’s true in elections, it’s also true in the legislative bodies. Read Robert Caro’s big biography of LBJ when he ran the Senate. How did he run it? It’s by controlling who’s in the room when the bill comes up for a vote. It’s saying, ‘OK, I’m going to do this during recess’ or ‘I’m going to do this late at night when this when the oldest guy is asleep and won’t be able to -‘ This is how politics is done. It’s looking at the rules of the game and saying, ‘How do I position what I’m doing within those rules and how do I change the rules (if I’m able to) in order to win political power?’ It seems somehow fundamental to the operations of politics. Yet your organization (and I would feel I join you in that) want there to be universal principles as to how we run these things. And those do seem to be in conflict a little bit, the reality of how politics is done – to some extent I can’t fault politicians for wanting to operate this way because that’s fucking politics. That’s how you win. So how do you how do you square those two things?
Speaker 2 [00:54:50] I mean you said it yourself, right, that the practice of politics from the politician’s perspective is not the same thing as the practice of politics from the individual citizens perspective or the community’s perspective. What is happening in the legislature, those are sort of operational machinations, right? That’s one thing. What we are trying to do is make sure that when those folks are operating and when other people who are decision makers are operating (whether they’re in the legislative branches or the executive branch or wherever else) that the community voice is actually being heard. What has happened in recent years especially has been such a dramatic distortion; because of gerrymandering, because of the structural voting stuff that we were talking about earlier that you don’t have the relationship between what’s going on under the dome at the US Capitol or in state capitals across the country and the communities that are supposed to be being represented. And so we’ve got to build that relationship back up and that involves a whole process of building power, like you say, electorally but also using that power to achieve structural change that’s needed in order to retain it. So you’ve got to reverse this whole cycle that we’ve been subject to.
Speaker 1 [00:56:19] There’s a way to let them operate, as you say, and not violate our fundamental principles of: Americans should have a say in their government.
Speaker 2 [00:56:30] Yeah, yes.
Speaker 1 [00:56:33] Well tell me about what your organization does. You said you have your help line that helps people. What are your actual on the ground initiatives?
Speaker 2 [00:56:44] The actual, on the ground stuff Democracy North Carolina does: one thing, we are doing research and writing that is helping to shape the debate in North Carolina around all these election and redistricting and money and politics issues. So we try to be the experts on the ground to be a bridge, not just to the people who are making policy over in the state capital, but at the community level to understand what the impact is. So there’s that layer of structural expertise. Second thing is, our team is spread across North Carolina and is working in communities across North Carolina to make sure that we’re not just, – You get a lot of people that, this takes you kind of to a broader vision of politics outside of what happens in government. But there are some visions of change that are based on the thing I just mentioned: let the experts cook and you’ll get the results. We don’t think that’s one hundred percent of the answer; the experts can cook but you need to make sure that the people actually have a say. And what the experts are thinking about is actually reflecting what community needs are. And what that looks like in practice is grassroots organizing, building relationships across the state. Working with churches, local civic organizations and putting people in a position to use the political process the way they want to use it. So one example of this is; we’ve got a whole set of rules in North Carolina that allow the public an opportunity to potentially influence where voting happens. One of the things we’ve been working to do over the last several cycles (including in the most recent cycle) is to train people, to partner with other groups across the state, especially local groups and put them in a position to advocate with their local election officials, their local county board of elections to say, ‘Hey, we want to make sure voting is at the community center and not just at the country club.’ ‘We want to make sure that there’s a polling site on the college campus and the polling site on the college campus is something students can actually reach and that we have during our early voting period, not just voting during the week, but on Saturdays and Sundays for people who work during the week.’ And so doing that kind of work, bridging the structural need with the actual on the ground practice is really what we’re trying to do. We don’t get involved in political campaigns, per say, but we do get involved in trying to make sure that the barriers to voting are as low as possible. And then whatever the barriers are, we help people overcome them: helping to get out the vote, putting people into – training folks saying, ‘OK, here’s how you make that phone call to persuade someone to be able to take a vote for the first time.’ And so doing that work as well.
Speaker 1 [00:59:40] So that’s incredible work. And so much of that can be done on the ground and it’s so incredibly important to do and I think it makes a huge difference in an election system when you have groups like yours that are out there doing that. There are places, many places – here where I am in L.A. where I don’t know about an organization like yours. There are organizations doing this but maybe not on as wide a scale. But when you need the participation of the political system, how do you go about getting that? Just to give you one more example of how impactful this shit can be, here in our city elections in L.A., we had a really big seat change in the November election where a bunch of old folks were swept out of power and a bunch of new politicians were swept in. And the biggest reason for that was that they rescheduled the elections. Previously, our elections in the city had been held in the off off years (not the presidential election and not the congressional election, but the middle year, the one between that – the election nobody votes in). The elections where you’re like ‘There’s an election today? I didn’t even hear about it.’ And as a result, people didn’t even know about these offices. And for some reason (this is before I moved to the city so I don’t know why), the city decided: let’s move the election and make it align with the national presidential election. And as a result, literally like five times as many people voted in these races as did previously. And as a result, a bunch of the politicians lost their fucking jobs. And so I don’t know why they voted for this, because it was in their interest. These are all people who got elected by the oldsters who vote in every single election; the retirement communities, the people have got nothing better to do; the Next Door types, the sort of real local wonks. They were basically elected by the krank population and it would have been their interest to keep it that way because that’s what got them elected. But instead for some reason, they decided to open it up massively and that changed the political climate in the city in what I think is a massively beneficial way. Suddenly people know the name of their city councilperson and they give a shit about it and they’re talking about it. And, wow, that’s so cool. But how do you get the politicians who need to vote in order to make such change happen, how do you get them to go along with it?
Speaker 2 [01:02:01] It’s always a question of accountability, right? So we’ve got – and this is where there is a whole ecosystem that we’re part of. There are community organizations, statewide organizations, folks that are going to be able to say, ‘Look, this is a priority for us. We helped to put you in office and we have expectations.’ So it’s about what is being done. That’s the power of organizing, that if you get enough people together to say, ‘Yes, this is the thing we want and we are going to be concerted in clearly communicating that,’ and underscoring the stakes that’s how change can start to happen. It takes different angles for different folks to achieve that, block by block. It’s going to be some member of the – there’s going to be some legislator that’s persuaded by the memo that our policy people wrote. There’s going to be some other person that’s going to be persuaded by the narratives from somebody within their district. It’s not a one size fits all, but you’ve got to apply all those different tools to achieve that outcome. And that’s effectively organizing and advocacy.
Speaker 1 [01:03:21] That’s a very good answer. Have you had success doing that?
Speaker 2 [01:03:26] You know, in some ways. The last 10 years have been hard, in achieving changes and yet one thing that I think about from last year that I think was frankly kind of surprising was, we were able to get some changes into North Carolina law just through the 2020 election and the pandemic context that made absentee voting more accessible. That relaxed some of the rules around who gets to be a poll worker and those are things that helped contribute to the 75 percent turnout we got last fall.
Speaker 1 [01:04:01] Wow. That’s a huge turnout.
Speaker 2 [01:04:03] Yeah, huge turnout. We had a huge turnout here. These changes that were made to absentee voting, now we got to have a whole new fight about trying to keep these things in place. But the changes that were made; we went from having to have two witnesses for an absentee ballot to one. Still not ideal but two beats one. In our primary with the two witness requirement in place, it was something around eighty six percent of absentee ballots that people submitted were accepted. That’s a pretty high rejection rate. And if you extrapolate that to the amount of absentee ballots we’d see in the general election, you get into pretty seriously high number. Usually greater than the margin of a statewide race, that number lowered. But when you had one witness last fall, the number of absentee ballots that were submitted and accepted was in the high 90’s.That’s a way higher number and that helped to avoid a really bad scenario. So that’s is one near-term success story that we feel good about it. And the other thing that we point to is the fact that last year we had people working across the state trying to get their communities to create or to have good early voting hours. And at the same time, there are also groups (one of which involved one of these lawsuits that was also litigating against the state of North Carolina on some of these issues) those pressures coming together, the end result of it was a seventy nine percent increase in the amount of hours that people were available to vote early than compared to 2016. And that was effectively, formally through an emergency order that the state issued using their emergency powers. But that doesn’t happen without public pressure. It doesn’t happen without people stepping up to say ‘This is something we need.’ Those are those are two outcomes I point to from just the last year.
Speaker 1 [01:06:04] Can you paint a picture for me of: if we are able to get the kind of election access that you’ve been working for how does that change our communities in a in a positive way? Do you have a vision of that?
Speaker 2 [01:06:16] Yeah. I mean, I think the idea is that you have these things that are in relationship with each other. It’s the voting access but it’s also people using that access and it’s also people using that access to get the things they want. And if they work the way they should it creates kind of a virtuous cycle. We’ve opened up voting access, OK? We’re getting more people involved in voting. OK, all these people that are now involved in voting they also (because of work that we and others have been doing on organizing and training) have an increased capacity to advocate for the things that they want, whether it’s a housing issue or an education issue, whatever the case may be. And then they’re able to achieve that outcome and they’re able to achieve more reform. We want to achieve these structural changes not just because they’re nice, but because they’re in service of trying to build and distribute power.
Speaker 1 [01:07:12] Yeah, if people had that experience of – People are so cynical about (and justifiably so) – People have been let down by the political system. People feel that political system doesn’t represent them. But if they’ve had the experience of voting being easier and better and then they elect somebody who they feel represents them for the first time, and then that person does something that benefits them (or they vote for a referendum issue, they vote for a ballot initiative, they vote for anything), and then that improves their community in some measurable way that they – not even measurable way – in a way that feels real to them. Then they’re going to participate more and then we’re going to actually have a fucking democracy.
Speaker 2 [01:07:57] Right? That’s the goal.
Speaker 1 [01:08:00] How can people take part in this work, both in North Carolina (where I think it’s very important as a state where these issues are being contemporarily fought over) but also in their own communities. I mean, again, this is not an issue that we think about being here in California where I live. Yet there have been such massive changes over the last few years and there are more changes that need to happen. So how do you suggest people get involved in this?
Speaker 2 [01:08:24] In the very broad sense – North Carolina gets a short answer: you can visit our website DemocracyNC.org and we got lots of ways to plug in. Wherever you live there is a set of people who you might think of as busybodies, who you might think of as the annoying people who don’t keep to themselves. I know, because actually outside of the work context, I’m often like, ‘Oh, my gosh, why is someone bothering me?’ So I understand that you might feel ‘I don’t have time for this.’ There is somebody that is working on something and it doesn’t need to be as big as ‘We need to swing the whole election.’ It might be something as small as ‘I want to build a park’ or ‘I want to park that’s near me that to be cleaned up’ or ‘I want’ – whatever the thing is. And to really get down to the question of how do you find it? Sometimes it’s the kranks on Next Door. Some of those kranks on Next Door might be people who you actually agree with, who you might be able to find common cause with. Sometimes it is finding your local organizer. We often work with groups like the NAACP, the League of Women Voters, chapters of long standing organizations that are active in the community. For those who are members of a faith community; we’ve been able to achieve a lot through communities of worship (if that’s your thing). But all it takes is a group of organized people. I would love to be able to say, ‘OK, in Los Angeles, go talk to this person. In Seattle, go talk to this person. In New York, go talk to this person.’ But what you can find without a whole lot of research is seeing: who is doing a thinking on this and who’s doing the moving on this. And it doesn’t take a fancy degree. It doesn’t take a high level of of expertise. What it takes is your knowledge, your experience, your willingness to work. You can find that in others – that might be a little vague because I think what people probably really want is a place that they can go right away. But I think the answer is to the surface the things immediately around you
Speaker 1 [01:10:43] Yeah, look for the people who are showing up in your area and then say, ‘Hey, can I show up too?’ The League of Women Voters is a perfect example, there are League of Women Voters chapters all over the country. You can go to a meeting and if you go to a League of Women Voters meeting, you’ll probably meet a couple of retirees who just like going to meetings. There are those people at all these things. But you’ll probably also meet someone who is really, really working hard to fix things in your community. And you say, ‘Hey, what else are you a member of?’
Speaker 2 [01:11:18] Yeah, that’s right. That’s exactly right.
Speaker 1 [01:11:20] Yeah. Start going to those things. Here in L.A. we have neighborhood council meetings, which are these almost powerless little local bodies that have endless committee meetings. And I don’t really go to these meetings because they are interminable. But I do talk to the people who do go to them. And they are some of the best people I’ve met in Los Angeles. I say, ‘Hey, what else do you do? And can I help you out in some other way – other than going to this one meeting that I don’t personally care for.’ There are those people in every community and you don’t need to be a special type of person to be one of them. You can just start showing up. And once you start showing up, oh, my gosh, the world of your community will open up to you.
Speaker 2 [01:12:03] Yeah, that’s exactly right. I couldn’t say it better myself. Politics is about people coming together to achieve something that they all want to achieve together.
Speaker 1 [01:12:12] It’s so cool when it happens. Oh, you’re making me excited right now to get out and not just vote, but to participate. One of the things that made me so happy about the last election was how many friends of mine signed up to be poll workers, and just that ‘I’m going to go be a poll worker.’ You can vote, but you can do those things too. Or you can go be a doorknocker or you can be someone who calls and does phone banking to call people and say, ‘Do you know where to vote? Do you know how to register to vote?’ Just that much is so meaningful.
Speaker 2 [01:12:49] It’s amazing for working poll workers, that is a thankless job.
Speaker 1 [01:12:53] Oh, yeah.
Speaker 2 [01:12:53] We had a real need last year because of the pandemic to address gaps in poll workers and people really stepped up. I mean, that’s another big win from this last election.
Speaker 1 [01:13:05] Well, Tomas, thank you so much for the work that you do. And thank you so much for coming on to tell us about it. It has been amazing to have you.
Speaker 2 [01:13:11] Thank you so much for having me.
Speaker 1 [01:13:14] Well, thank you once again to Tomas Lopez for coming on the show. If you’d like to check out the work of Democracy North Carolina, you can find them at DemocracyNC.org. And hey, if you want to support the show; buy one of our guest’s books at factuallypod.com/books, tell a friend or family member about the show and send me an email at Factually@AdamConover.net and let me know whether you’d be interested in supporting the show directly and on what platform you’d like to do that, whether that be patriot on Spotify or Apple. We’d love to hear from you. I want to thank our producers Chelsea Jacobson and Sam Roudman, our engineer Andrew Carson, Andrew W.K. for our theme song. The fine folks at the Northwest for building me the incredible custom gaming PC that I’m recording this very episode for you on. You can find me online at AdamConover.Net or @AdamConover wherever you get your social media. Until next week, we will see you on factually. Thank you so much for listening.
July 26, 2022
How can we best help animals, when it’s we humans who cause their suffering? Animal Crisis authors Alice Crary and Lori Gruen join Adam to explain how the same systems that hurt and kill animals also harm humans. They discuss the human rights abuses that happen in industrial slaughterhouses and how palm oil monocrops are devastating the world’s rainforests. They also share how we can have solidarity with animals in our daily lives. You can purchase their book at http://factuallypod.com/books
July 19, 2022
In times of turmoil, it can be useful to take a longer view of history. Like, a LOT longer. Paleontologist and author of “The Rise and Reign of the Mammals” Stephen Brusatte joins Adam to explain how mammals took over the Earth hundreds of millions of years ago, and why we survived and achieve sentience when dinosaurs died out. Stephen goes on to discuss why taking a deep look at our history can help prepare us for the crises of the near future. You can purchase Stephen’s book at http://factuallypod.com/books
July 13, 2022
Trans people have existed as long as, you know, people have. But the barriers to legal inclusion and equality are still higher than most people realize. “Sex is as Sex Does” author Paisley Currah joins Adam to discuss why institutions have been slow to give legal recognition to trans identities, why Republicans have shifted their attacks from bathroom policies to trans youth in sports, and why the struggle for trans equality is tied to feminism and women’s liberation. You can purchase Paisley’s book at http://factuallypod.com/books