An “army of environmental super voters” has been emerging in the United States since 2015, thanks to a non-partisan group that is now turning its attention to municipal elections taking place over the next year.
The Massachusetts-based Environmental Voters Project has contacted nearly 6.2 million voters in 12 U.S. states “who rank environmental issues as a top concern, but rarely, if ever, vote,” Grist reports. “The group estimates that they’ve been able to convert just over 733,000 of those people into regular voters in the last five years.”
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Now, the organization is extending its reach to five more states—Alaska, Texas, Kansas, Iowa, and New York—and focusing in on local campaigns that are next up on the political agenda.
“The climate movement’s problem is not a lack of solutions, it’s a lack of political power,” said EVP founder Nathaniel Stinnett. “We need to mobilize every day in every election in every state to amass so much political power that we’re impossible to ignore.”
Grist says the project’s targeting has never been random. Its first wave of growth ahead of mid-term Congressional elections in 2018 brought it to Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Nevada, and Pennsylvania, all states with large populations of environmentalists who did not vote. In 2019, with the 2020 presidential campaign coming into view, the project added Arizona, Virginia, New Mexico, North Carolina, New Hampshire, and Maine.
The latest expansion focuses on states with major votes scheduled over the next year, including mayoralty races in some of the country’s biggest cities.
“The local elections this year are a golden opportunity to start building a green wave for 2022,” Stinnett explained. “If we only get involved in voter mobilization every two or four years when there’s some big, sexy federal election, oh my gosh, are we taking a big risk. We can’t win at every battle, so we need to grab at every opportunity we can.”
The targets range from Anchorage, Alaska, where the project aims to call or text 12,000 registered voters ahead of an April 6 mayoralty vote, to New York City, with a potential one million “environmental super voters”. Stinnett also hopes to reach up to 530,000 people in San Antonio, Texas, which holds a mayoralty vote May 1 and participates in a state-wide election next year.
Between 2017 and 2020, the group’s funding has grown from US$475,000 to nearly $2.7 million, with big donors like British financier Jeremy Grantham joining a group of more than 7,000 small donors and 6,000 volunteers.
Grist details the voter identification and outreach techniques the Environmental Voter Project has developed, noting that its pitch “rarely if ever touches on environmental or climate issues.” They’re more likely to “shame voters for missing elections in which their neighbors cast ballots,” remind them when and where to vote, and make arrangements to follow up.
“If you really take seriously the idea of turning non-voters into voters, you really can’t take an election off,” Stinnett said. “You can’t view the act of voting as a series of one-off transactions. It’s not. It’s a potentially habitual behaviour you can reinforce.”