A Special Interview: July 2022
What is uniquely important about this state primary election?
It’s extraordinarily important that every voter vote in every election they are eligible to vote in. Even if you don’t like the candidates or the race is not super competitive. Politicians and parties use the voter file – the publicly available list of all the registered voters and which elections they’ve voted in – to figure out which voters and communities to prioritize and which folks to ignore. When only some voters and communities show up to vote, it makes our whole community weaker. It leads politicians to overemphasize some issues and ignore others and makes it harder for us to govern ourselves together in a way that respects and benefits everyone. So this election is obviously extremely important because of the many tight races and influential offices on the ballot. But it’s also important just because it’s an election and because everyone’s participation is essential.
What is the greatest challenge to fulfill your mission of getting every person in every precinct to vote in every election in Baltimore?
The greatest challenge is building a network of local leaders in each voting precinct who are dedicated to including every single voter in their precinct. It’s hard work to identify those leaders, It’s hard work to support them and resource them in developing plans to do great outreach in their neighborhoods. And it’s particularly hard to sustain and grow their leadership from election to election. But it makes a huge difference. So we go to work at the Baltimore Votes Coalition everyday doing that work of growing our network of community leaders and then supporting and resourcing with everything they need in order to eventually include every voter in their community.
How are you inspiring the next generation of leaders in your field?
I had an amazing experience this spring working with students from across the region this spring on a “Democracy Data Science Hack-a-thon” to analyze the Baltimore voter file and provide the local leaders we serve with critical information that can help inform their strategies and message to the community. They produced some amazing products like a precinct turnout dashboard to inform party at the polls hosts, histograms of various aspects of Baltimore City Voter data, analysis of how voter turnout connects with other Baltimore Neighborhood Indicators Alliance signals, and visualizations of where civic group have strong membership and where they need to grow. It was so valuable for us to work with these students. I hope they go on to continue bringing their data science skills to the work of building a work inclusive democracy and I know that the work they did with us has already inspired some of the existing leaders in our field to try out new ideas and strategies.
What life experience has most shaped who you are as a leader?
I co-founded the Students Learn Students Vote Coalition with Clarissa Unger in 2016. The SLSV Coalition is the national hub & largest nonpartisan network in the country dedicated to increasing student voter participation. Our work over the last seven years to grow and cultivate and steward this community to more than 400 coalition partners with a reach of over 2,000 higher education institutions has taught me so much about the persistence and humility and tenacity required to build power with a constituency.
In your opinion, what personal trait is most important to being a good leader and why?
The tenacity to try something new paired with the humility to listen to feedback and the tenacity to keep going in spite of opposition. I guess that is three personal traits? I stand by my answer anyway. Leaders need to be multifaceted!