How often do you think about voting rights when it’s not an election year? The team at All Voting is Local is thinking about it all the time – every year. The nonpartisan nonprofit works in eight states to ensure that voting is fair and accessible to everyone. For its work building sustained, locally tailored advocacy campaigns, the organization was recently named a Lever for Change Stronger Democracy Award finalist.

Hannah Fried, executive director of All Voting Is Local, spoke with Giving Compass in the days leading up to the 2022 midterm election. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Briefly, tell us about All Voting is Local and what you’ve been able to accomplish since 2018.

Our theory of change recognizes that the business of running elections is year-round work, and so, too, is the work to build bridges with officials who want to expand access to the ballot – and hold accountable those who don’t. If you want to make sure our elections are fair and more accessible and you want to make sure every vote will count, you have to engage with the process that state and local officials use to decide how they’re going to run their elections - and that’s a process they run year-round. Since 2018, our year-round and sustained focus has enabled us to advocate for the change that voters deserve. For example, our team, hand-in-hand with the communities we work with, participates in board of elections meetings about election administration and provides feedback on state election manuals. In those meetings, and in these manuals, officials are making proposals for how elections will be administered in their specific state - from where polling places are located to the process they use to review absentee ballots and decide whether to accept or reject them. There are opportunities for communities to provide feedback and input. A lot of that happens in the off-years of elections. By staying engaged in these “off-years,” we are able to call for changes that will ensure that elections are run in a way that expands access to voting - for every voter, and particularly for voters of color and other communities that have been denied the freedom to vote for so many years.

Data analysis, strategic communications, and grassroots power-building are key strategies in your work. How does this approach help your organization strengthen democracy?

We think about our work through three tactical pillars: data-driven advocacy, strategic communications, and grassroots power-building. Through these pillars, we are driving towards expanding voting access for Black, Brown, Native American, and historically disenfranchised communities, ensuring the votes of the communities we serve are counted and that election results are accepted. We amplify the power of communities most impacted by voter suppression with tools, resources, and infrastructure to protect and expand their own vote. Let me use the example of the distance some communities have to travel to get to their polling place - for example, Native American voters in Nevada and Arizona, or Black voters in Florida or Ohio. Time and again, across our states, we see that communities of color are having to travel a further distance to vote, and we do a lot of advocacy campaigns to address that inequity. We’ll start with data analysis, to determine how far a voting location is from a community we’re working with. That analysis in turn becomes a building block in a broader strategy to mobilize local communities and drive advocacy. We’ll do a paid or earned media campaign to tell the story of how much further the community we’re working in has to travel to get to their voting location, and what that actually means in real terms for voters there. We’ll coordinate with partners to ensure that, when the time comes for local officials to decide where polling places will be, they notify community members so that the community can make their voices heard about what they need to be able to vote. That integrated advocacy – that brings together data, communications, and community power – ensures that, together with our partners, we’re making the strongest case for elections that are fair and accessible.

What results do you hope to achieve with funding and support from the Stronger Democracy/Lever for Change community?

If we've learned anything these last couple of years, it’s that the threats to our elections are happening at the very local level. We've got to look not only to courts and legislatures for the kind of equality that voters deserve. What All Voting is Local has brought through our model is that sustained focus on the power local officials have; it means that somebody's always got their eyes on this piece of the puzzle. And that's a really important value-add to the whole democracy ecosystem. 

What are the biggest challenges you see in our democracy? What are you most hopeful about?

Since this country was founded, who gets to vote and who doesn't get to has been the currency of power. We are in a moment of really significant threat, but I'm not sure that it's here to stay. We are seeing efforts to totally de-legitimize the administration of our elections and use lies and conspiracy theories to undermine the process of running elections. In 2020, you had powerful voices in this country telling lies about our elections. And yet, democracy won and the will of the people prevailed. It can feel lousy sometimes. But when I think about how, in 2020, people overcame, how poll workers still served at polling places, how voters still managed to get their ballot and waited in line and got to their polling place, and put on their PPE to do it – that is really hopeful. I think we can turn this ship around, but it takes work.

What do you want donors to know about funding bold solutions? 

This work takes time, it takes relationship building, it takes analysis, it takes human capital, and information about the circumstances on the ground. Creating a thriving democracy isn’t work that can get done in a couple of months. If you really want to see that change, you've got to come in at ground level and come in early so that the work can be sustained year over year.