An Exclusive Interview with Kim Rogers
Kim Rogers is an Executive Director at the Democratic Association of Secretaries of State (DASS) where she focuses a lot of her attention on electoral politics. The DASS is committed to both electing and protecting Democratic Secretaries of States. Rogers, along with the DASS, recognize the critical role that Secretaries of States play in ensuring voting access despite efforts to restrict it and, ultimately, in protecting American Democracy by protecting the sanctity
of the vote.
What is so valuable about a secretary of state position and how does it relate to election security?
Well, I think one of the reasons you're hearing so much about it is that in several states, secretaries of state are also the chief elections officers and, depending on the state, it's really them who oversee elections that have been targeted by extremists since 2020. As I like to say, I don't think that Trump is endorsing these races because of notary services or business licensing, and since 2020 we’ve seen an unprecedented effort from Trump and his allies to overturn the will of voters. However, democratic secretaries were on the forefront of rejecting those conspiracy theories, standing up against Trump and other election deniers, as well as puting voters first, whether they were Republican, Democrat or Independent voters. Our secretaries believe, regardless of your party, voters should decide their outcome and in 2020 these secretaries proved just that by working on the frontlines.
What does the breakdown look like for all of the races you are watching this year?
Yeah, there are 27 races on the ballot in 2022 and normally that number would be 26, but we do have a special election in Washington to complete the term for our new incumbent secretary Steve Hobbs. Additionally, I think another really important piece that is often overlooked is that there are over 23 election deniers running for secretary of state in 19 of those 27 states.
Can you talk a little bit about the overwhelming number of bills that have been introduced to restrict voting rights and has that played a part in the way that you all are strategically looking at this from the electoral side?
Without a doubt. We saw more than 500 bills in 2021 to suppress voters and undermine the stripping power of elections officials. More than 30 of those bills were enacted into a law with more than 500 additional bills still under consideration in the 2022 legislative session. They wanna interfere with election administration and there have been more election interference bills considered from January to April of this year than all of 2021. However, I will say that secretaries have been taking action. We continue expanding early in person absentee voting, expanding access to ballot and drop boxes, implementing online automatic and same day voter registration, and we are pushing back against these voter suppression efforts in their respective states. And not just that, several of our democratic secretaries are offering proactive solutions. Because the federal voting rights bill stalled, they have been pushing at the state level to protect election workers to enshrine some of this additional access into state laws and some safeties as simple as removing guns from polling places.
Can you talk a little bit more about some of the ongoing devastating effects from these election deniers and the big lie, particularly if it is limiting access to any types of communities who are already marginalized and disenfranchised from the electoral process?
Yeah. Well, I think first and foremost, the rhetoric is really dangerous. It is part of a coordinated attack to continue to undermine democracy and to put others in a “me-versus- them” or “us-versus-them” mentality in our political system. And it's actually causing threats of physical violence to election workers. I think we need to acknowledge that there is a physical danger as well as an existential danger to our democracy here. It's been incredibly damaging, marginalized communities are already impacted disproportionately by disinformation and suppression tactics. And as we mentioned before, these communities are being targeted by bad faith legislation based on those conspiracy theories to further restrict access. When these theories from election deniers are pushed, it's their attempt at gatekeeping our elections, deciding who gets to vote, and intimidating voters who aren't on their side. This isn't just about re-litigating 2020, this is about picking and choosing winners in future elections and determining which voters get a say, instead of whether voters get a say.
For those of us who are trying to fight that rhetoric or figure out ways in which to counter it, have there been ways in which you all have successfully done that? What strategies are you all implementing?
Yeah. I mean, I think the answer is simple, we choose truth over lies and we choose voters over preordained outcomes. Our secretaries have demonstrated competency and respect for the rule of law and I think that experience is really important as extremists attempt to erode trust. Most people think that their state and local elections are safe. Most people trust their local elections officials and think that the problems are elsewhere. So we need to continue to introduce these secretaries and their records to voters. They are trusted messengers and we should continue to have them speak directly to voters and we should look to them to talk about what the voting process looks like. It's educating voters, it's educating the media, and it's us as activists taking the opportunity to engage directly. I always encourage people to participate in the process. There are organizations like Power the Polls that recruit poll workers across the country. Then we see a representation of voters like us, working the polls or even getting a group of friends or family together and going to vote together. Bringing that engagement, bringing more people into the process and doing it firsthand. That's how we rebuild faith in the process.
Are there other challenges that you all are facing or that your candidates are facing, particularly as they go into this year's elections?
I think secretaries of state races have always been incredibly consequential, but historically have been a little bit more under the radar, getting less coverage from the media and getting less attention. The fact that we're talking right now is an incredible sign. Secretaries' of states are far better known than they used to be because of being thrust into the spotlight during 2020, they still have a long way to go before the public's fully aware of what's going on. And I think one of the biggest challenges is how noisy this midterm environment is in many states where we're looking to have secretary of state races, there are senate races and gubernatorial races that are taking place as well. Several organizations have all already reserved hundreds of millions of dollars on TV for the fall so we've got to breakthrough the importance of a down ballot race. It's crucial to keep emphasizing the stakes of the race. The fight for democracy really is in the states and to be competitive, we need to be sure we have the resources to cut through that noise, to enter our secretaries and candidates to voters. And then I think we need to have all of our activists and voters turn out and vote all the way down the ballot.
Can you talk a little bit about how you all think of building the bench for these secretaries of states, which are statewide races, but where do these candidates come from? And if somebody was interested in running for a secretary of state, where could they potentially start off a political career?
Call us. I think that's the great thing about secretaries of state. There are several different backgrounds, there are some attorneys, there are some who started out in local elections offices, there are some who started out in the state legislature, but I think the commonality is a commitment to democracy, a commitment to the truth and the want to do the job well and ensure that voters have access. Some people haven't been in office before they became secretary of state. There are multiple paths available and I think that's a really important part, there is no one right answer for what it takes to be secretary of state, as long as you want to stand up for the voters and do the job to protect democracy.
Are there any particular sort of favorite accomplishments that you have had since you have been at DASS?
Honestly, by far and away it's the team that we're building. Historically DASS has not had full-time staff, but we really wanted to meet the moment that we were in. So we're building the infrastructure to support secretaries and candidates and having campaign services. The team has allowed us to move the needle on these races not only in earned media, but also just through direct candidate support and training. They are really leaning in and helping campaign managers and candidates think through what their strategy is at the state level and building together a path to victory. I think that's really exciting to have that level of support available for candidates and I think that team is also one of the reasons we are talking right now, people are paying attention to these races in a way that they haven't and that's exciting. It's not just our team, organizations across the spectrum who have never played at this level now want to work together to win these crucial races. I think that kind of collaboration is new and shows the interest around the races and something that collectively we should all be really excited and proud of.
How has having democratic secretaries of state in those positions helped that fight to get more access to the ballot? What impacts have mail- in balloting had in some of these states?
Well, I think more than anything it's safe. During a pandemic, people didn't have to wait in lines, people didn't have to be in crowds, people were able to get their ballots at home and take some time and reflect on them. Secretaries of state led that fight, where they could, they sent ballots where they couldn't, they sent application forms so people knew it was an option. And I think the biggest thing is mail-in voting means more people have access to voting. It means that if your shift goes long, if you have to work a double, if you have to pick your kids up from school, you're not limited to those 12 hours that the polls open in your state. It means that people can have time to be reflective and think about what's on the ballot and really our goal is that every eligible American gets secure, fair access to voting regardless of zip code. I think that mail-in voting allowed for the safest and most secure election in American history in 2020. Our secretaries know that making voting more accessible bolsters democracy overall, and I feel like this is one of those things that has shifted in the wake of 2020.
So if our readers are interested in getting involved with DASS and/or helping to protect voting rights, what are some ways that they can do that?
We have a website where you should go to sign up, it's demsofstate.org. You can sign up to get on our email list and we will have volunteer opportunities available as the fall goes on. You can always donate, we appreciate that too. Follow us on social media we're @demsofstate on Twitter. Lift up secretaries of state, find out who's running in your state, reach out to us and we will let you know who the candidates in your state are. When it comes to getting involved, talk to your friends and family, start with the low lifts and go from there. It's important to understand this race in terms of certifying elections and preserving our democracy. Secretaries really are the last lines of defense in a lot of these states. There isn't as much split ticket voting as there used to be, but we have seen secretaries win in places where gubernatorial candidates haven't won. As recently as 2018, we've seen secretaries lose by very narrow margins because of drop off voters so we need to convince all of our friends and family to vote all the way down the ballot to preserve our democracy. We need the resources to communicate so folks know who these candidates are and we will have volunteer opportunities available because we all have a role in protecting our democracy.
Have any questions or want to learn more about Kim Roger's work? Drop us a note!