Rural Voters on the Road to Progress
In the November ’23 elections, voters in Ohio, Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Kentucky protected core freedoms like reproductive choice, education, and democracy itself. Rural Americans elected leaders who support clean energy, climate progress, and racial justice to city and county government, school and water boards, and as sheriffs and district attorneys. These leaders will determine whether rural Americans have senior care, child care, and adequate school funding. Working with their communities, they will make decisions that help keep hospitals open, expand access to broadband, secure safe and affordable housing, and establish good jobs. Participating in our democracy has enormous consequences for rural people’s everyday lives.
In the run-up to the election, the RDI network organized volunteers who reached out to their neighbors, knocked on doors, put up yard signs, and helped voters get high-quality information about the issues they care most about. But the work started well before election season. Our grantees developed leaders to run for office, built coalitions and gained media coverage to advance top local issues, and expanded communications platforms. This is year-round, every-year work that grows stronger over time.
We’re still sorting through a flood of hopeful stories from our grantees, and read below for a few highlights.
Pictured above: Save Our Schools Arizona
RURAL VOTE SHAPES HIGH-PROFILE ELECTIONS
Reproductive Rights in Ohio
In Ohio, where the right to abortion and reproductive care passed 56%-44%, the Daily Yonder reports rural areas showed huge gains. The 22% rural shift towards supporting abortion rights reinforces that rural voters are swing voters deeply motivated by issues. RuralOrganizing.org recruited 1,100 “vocal locals” who placed 11,000 yard signs around the state. They focused on Athens County, where they knocked 30,000 doors, tapping a well of concern that lifted rural Athens to the 3rd highest YES vote in the entire state. We also supported Red Wine and Blue, whose volunteers had tens of thousands of relational conversations with friends and neighbors in suburbs and small towns, while their digital organizing diverted voters away from disinformation-filled websites to factual content. RDI grantee Freedom BLOC also knocked on 45,000 doors and registered 8,000 mostly Black voters in Akron.
The Ohio election results show rural voters support reproductive rights at a higher rate than they support Democrats. Campaigns must close the gap between candidates and issues they support.
State and Local Elections Across Pennsylvania
In Pennsylvania our grantees provided rural voters with quality information about the issues in the critical Supreme Court race, while also supporting their leaders running for local office. Pennsylvania United anchored the coalition campaign for Allegheny County Executive, which has major reach into rural PA; they have appointment authority over the Southwestern Pennsylvania Commission, the primary regional conduit for federal infrastructure funding. Newly elected Sara Innamoratu is a champion for safe, affordable housing and a transition to a green economy. Dozens of leaders with Pennsylvania United, PA Stands Up, Action Together NE PA, and CASA in Action were elected in Meadville, State College, Arnold, Lehigh, the Luzerne County Council, and the Lancaster School District.
Virginia Legislature and Culpeper Sheriff
In Virginia, CASA in Action and 1000 Women Strong turned out thousands of Latino and Black voters in HD-65 (Stafford County), where Josh Cole’s win cemented the new House of Delegates majority. And Sheriffs for Trusting Communities’ affiliated PAC successfully supported an independent reformer against the anti-immigrant, anti-democracy sheriff of Culpeper, VA – a member of Protect America Now.
RURAL PROGRESS AROUND THE COUNTRY
We’re extremely proud to celebrate the hard work and successes in the many consequential local contests outside the national limelight. We selected a few to share.
- Georgia – To get out the vote, SOWEGA Rising canvassed over 1,000 voters in rural Southwest Georgia, and New Georgia Project talked to 100,000 voters across the state.
- Iowa – Pro-democracy candidates swept the Mason City school board, and the Moms for Liberty candidates all lost in Carroll. In Pella, the epicenter of anti-LGBTQ book-banning activism, voters rejected a ballot measure to strip away the local library’s ability to govern itself.
- Maine - The Wabanaki Alliance supported a successful measure that requires printing historic Tribal treaty obligations in the state constitution, and rural voters celebrated the right to repair cars, trucks, and tractors.
- Montana – In a heartwarming win against a powerful anti-tax tide, Montana Rural Voters passed a Fire Bond in Miles City, where the current fire station was deemed structurally unsafe five years ago. Firefighters work out of trailers in the yard, and the city’s big ladder truck is stored a 12-minute drive away. The effort inspired residents that local government and civic institutions can be a transformative source for good.
- New Hampshire – 44 of 603 Forward’s endorsed candidates won, including small-town city councils and school boards and even one legislative seat.
- Texas – Successful Proposition 8 will create a broadband infrastructure fund with a $1.5 billion allocation for mostly rural Texans, Proposition 6 will create a fund to upgrade water infrastructure, and Proposition 9 will increase pension checks for retired teachers.
Hearing about the tremendous leaps forward driven by local leaders in countless communities reconnects us to why we do this work. And we’re excited to dive into the data and field experiments for the lessons that will inform our path forward – like the persuasive power of issues like abortion and housing, and core values like freedom and love of place; the impact of visibility through yard signs and “vocal locals”; how to scale large relational organizing programs; and the turnout effects of local candidates.
We’re thankful and inspired by the more than 100 groups in our network for their tireless year-round effort, and our supporters who make this possible.