In 2018, Democrats won a majority in the New York (NY) State Senate after years of Republican rule. In 2020, Democrats needed just two more seats in the 63-member Senate to secure a veto- proof supermajority. However, the odds were stacked against Democrats based on how district lines were drawn back in 2011 and a right wing billionaire-funded independent expenditure that attacked seven freshmen Democratic incumbents.
Due to Covid-19, NY also had to make a rapid adjustment to mail- in voting, allowing all registered resident to vote absentee in a state that previously had strict limitations on the procedure. Election laws were evolving, but many counties could not build out the election infrastructure needed to support these changes. In the 2020 Primary election, we saw many NY districts where over 20% of ballots were rejected. In many targeted districts, a 20% drop in expected turnout would create a watershed change in the race and potentially cost Democrats their loosely held majority.
As the novel coronavirus pandemic hit the US in full force, we took a calculated bet that it would continue to be the defining theme of the cycle and pivoted to a remote organizing structure. Working in tandem with the NY Democratic Senate Campaign Committee (DSCC), we identified 11 target districts to conduct remote voter outreach. Six targets were Democratic incumbents elected in the 2018 cycle, and five were open seats previously held by Republicans with a constituency that felt increasingly alienated by the Republican Party.
Demand for absentee ballots was surging in the state, and we knew our program needed to provide voters with the information they needed to safely cast their vote and curb the number of rejected ballots. Our program was broken into three phases with distinct strategy and goals:
On election night, the results indicated a big red wave and a shrinking majority, however, that red wave was actually a “red mirage”. After the tidal wave of absentee ballots were counted, Democrats held on to six target incumbents, flipped five seats, and picked up three seats — expanding their majority from 40 to 43. This was one of the few legislatures where democrats picked up seats in an otherwise strong down-ballot Republican year. Our effort took advantage of the surge of absentee votes and implemented the most aggressive absentee effort in history. This unprecedented victory will allow Democrats to have the final say on the 2022 redistricting process and can lead to a long-lasting majority.