Deidre DeJear, Democratic candidate for Secretary of State, had lunch Thursday in Jefferson with about 20 interested voters. By a show of hands, most had already cast early ballots for Tuesday’s general election.
DeJear said she is feeling the same enthusiasm in this election as she felt while working as a campus organizer for Sen Barack Obama in 2007-08. DeJear started her own company, Caleo Enterprises, in 2008, providing entrepreneurs and non-profits affordable marketing tools and business strategies. She worked fulltime on the 2012 Obama campaign and has worked on school board campaigns. “I’m passionate about getting people engaged,” she said.
She has also worked with non-partisan groups promoting voter registration. Her job was to work with hard-to-reach populations. “In every campaign that I’ve managed or worked on, we’ve increased voter turnout,” she said.
According to DeJear, there are 50,000 Iowans who are eligible to vote but not registered, and of those who are registered, many don’t vote. In the June primary, 13 percent of registered voters cast ballots. The average participation in school board and city elections is 5 to 10 percent, she said. “We have to look at the Secretary of State to encourage voting year-round,” she said.
She is interested in the office of Secretary of State because it is well-positioned to increase voter participation. “We need a Secretary of State that’s going to do that, rather than carving people out of the process,” DeJear said.
She would like to see all state and county offices that issue driver’s licenses or state ID cards offer voter registration every time they deal with the public. She’d use data from those sources to communicate with people via mail, social media, or e-mail.
She also suggested having non-partisan voter registration on college campuses while students are registering for classes.
By Code, Iowa schools must offer two voter registration opportunities a year. She said she’d work with schools to be sure they’re comfortable doing that in a non-partisan way. She also encouraged young adults to participate in the election process as a poll worker or volunteer.
She said voter registration is easier to do via non-partisan groups like the Women’s League of Voters, the NAACP or the ACLU than by partisan groups.
About voter identification laws, she said, “We want to make sure that our voting values stay progressive but also have some security and integrity as well.”
DeJear was knowledgeable about the National Voter Registration Act, and said states tend to ignore the first two parts that specify engaging with potential voters for registration, but use the third part that requires them to purge voter registration lists. Voters can be purged if they don’t participate in two general elections and don’t respond to a postcard sent by election officials. People who move frequently find themselves taken off voter registration rolls because election officials don’t have a current address for them.
DeJear’s solution would be to partner with utility companies and the Postal Service to keep voter registrations current.
She was asked about encouraging disaffected voters, those who say they no longer vote because “politicians are all a bunch of crooks.”
She answered that participating in marches or complaining on Facebook “feels good, but we also need you to vote. Our democracy literally depends on you using your voice. The only time I believe we’re not living up to the true values of our democracy is when we put voting on the back burner. We’ve got to keep voting to the forefront.”
She also said the Secretary of State office is well-positioned to help small businesses be able to weather any economic storm. Every business in the state has to register with the Secretary of State. “Let’s be sure that in their time there, we’re maximizing it, giving them tools and strategies that are already created, giving them access to resources that our taxpayer dollars are already going to, and being sure they understand them.”
It was DeJear’s second visit to Greene County. She campaigned in Jefferson in April prior to the Democratic primary.