Taking Back the Ballot

August 28, 2014

The consequences aren’t hypothetical. The cost of inaction couldn’t be more real. Voters head to the ballot box and limit who can marry, who has access to health care, whose kids deserve access to good schools.

It may seem like ballot measures weren’t really around in Paul Wellstone’s day. But the truth is that for decades, conservatives have strategically used ballot initiatives to push their extreme agenda. To make matters worse, progressives have spent over a billion dollars playing defense – and too often, we’ve lost – or protected a status quo that just isn’t good enough. 

That’s why Wellstone’s partnership with Ballot Initiative Strategy Center (BISC), and BISC Foundation, is critical to the progressive movement’s future, and our country’s future. BISC is the first place progressives go for honest information, innovative research, strategic advice, and useful tools related to ballot initiatives. They have two fundamental prerogatives: winning the urgent defensive fights we face (like preventing further erosion of the rights and liberties that ought to belong to everyone) and going on the offensive, supporting campaigns and allies and developing research to help progressive ideals win.

They’ve got an important job to do. And they’re winning the Wellstone Way.

We know that the opportunity to stand up for issues of justice, fairness, and equality is an energizing experience for voters. Advancing progressive ballot measures is a surefire way to move bold, smart, public policy forward. And it builds, mobilizes, and energizes the progressive base – which can also propel leaders forward who will stand on the right side of history. Our vision is simple, and crucial. Together, BISC, BISC Foundation, and Wellstone Action will grow a new generation of progressive leaders ready to leverage ballot measures as a tool for civic engagement, meaningful policy change, and long-term movement building. We’ve partnered to take down the conservative advantage, one state at a time.

For 10 years, we’ve trained hard-working individuals involved in campaigns across the country, yet we knew that campaign training didn’t always teach to the specific needs and skills of ballot-measure work. So we sought to change that. Says Justine Sarver, Executive Director of BISC:

“We sought out a partner with the experience to help train campaign leaders across the country how to win and strengthen our movement. There will always be defensive battles to fight, but we must also put forward our own positive, proactive ideas that will – as Paul Wellstone said –improve people's lives. Together, BISC and Wellstone Action bring the strategy and skills we need to reclaim ballot measures from the right and return them to their progressive roots.”

So in 2013, after years as a long-term strategic partner of BISC and the BISC Foundation, we hosted a first-of-its-kind training. The Ballot-Measure Civic Engagement Training (BMCET, because we do love acronyms here at Wellstone) brought together over 40 state and local leaders to focus on all the steps that lead to winning ballot-measure qualification. Every state has different rules and laws regarding how a measure qualifies for the ballot, so the magic of this training was to showcase real-world examples that winning campaigns could utilize, no matter where they are located. And to provide detailed campaign tactics that leaders could use and customize based on their own state’s circumstances.

It’s a sweet spot that we’ve built at BMCET.

Once a measure is on the ballot, it’s a race to Election Day. So BISC and Wellstone, in 2014, hosted a series of webinars followed by a three-day training as part of its Ballot-Measure Campaign Management Training to ensure these progressive measures win when they are put before the voters.

Wellstone has grown, and changed, and won many important battles over the past ten years. But through it all, we’ve always understood a basic fact: that winning enduring progressive power will only happen through meaningful partnerships built across the movement. It’s why we’re proud to have BISC’s trust. Says Justine,

“The people at Wellstone know what they're doing. That’s why BISC has partnered with Wellstone Action on trainings for several years, helping to raise the bar for ballot measure staff and policy advocates across the country. Wellstone approaches this work with good humor and humanity. The Wellstone folks are pros and a secret weapon of the progressive movement.”

Together, Wellstone Action and BISC will return ballot measures to their progressive roots. By pivoting from defense to offense, igniting and exciting our base, and weaving in our time-tested strategy of winning the Wellstone Way, we’ll make this year the year progressives across the country reclaim the ballot initiative process to advance our values and make politics about the improvement of people’s lives.