In Cuyahoga County, Only Endorsed Dems Could Get Access to Voter Database. Not Anymore.

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click to enlarge In Cuyahoga County, Only Endorsed Dems Could Get Access to Voter Database. Not Anymore. (2)
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This week, the Ohio Democratic Party instituted new rules regarding access to its statewide voter database. Hosted on the VoteBuilder platform, the database gives local Democratic parties and candidates access to granular voter information that's indispensable for canvassing and organizing during campaigns. Nationwide, the VoteBuilder technology is considered the "gold standard" for both voter contact and volunteer management.

In the past, access to this trove of data had been restricted to candidates endorsed by local Democratic parties. And in Cuyahoga County, this was one of many reasons why securing the Democratic Party endorsement was so crucial.

ODP has now changed its rules. It has done so, it says, to "ensure quality access, fair cost, accountable use, and a shared commitment to good data practices" across Ohio. 

In a Wednesday memo, ODP Chair Elizabeth Walters described the guidelines moving forward. All county parties would receive access to VoteBuilder for free but would not be allowed to extend their free access to preferred candidates. Any candidate, endorsed or not, would be allowed access for a fee. Revenue from those fees would then be reinvested into a fund to support activities of county parties.

"By increasing access to VoteBuilder, we are making sure that Democratic candidates across the state have the best technology possible to engage with Ohioans and show them we're on their side," said ODP Spokesman Matt Keyes, in a statement provided to Scene. "The policy change will also allow us to invest more in county parties, which will help us meet voters where they are, organize at a grassroots level and compete in every county in Ohio."

That's considered vital, as Ohio Democrats have been bulldozed by Republicans in statewide elections in recent years due in part to anemic voter turnout in Cuyahoga County.

"In the wake of the biggest political scandal in Ohio history—the pitiful HB 6 saga—Democrats in 2020 somehow lost seats in the Ohio House," wrote Ward 16 resident David Brock in a column published in The Land Thursday.

Brock is part of a group calling itself Build Back Cuyahoga that's enlisting active Democrats to run for the Cuyahoga County Party Central Committee. With new, diverse blood on that 975-member body, the group is convinced that the county party could finally enact desperately needed reforms.

"Instead of vigorously combating [gerrymandering and misinformation from the GOP] by crafting and defending policy alternatives, CCDP spends much of its time squabbling internally over which member to endorse in primaries," Brock wrote. "This is the case with the county executive race, where the party’s executive committee will soon make endorsements...

"Meanwhile, the Democrats have an increasingly unlikely chance for victory in any of the statewide races this year. And the Democrats in Cuyahoga County, from where victory at the state level must emanate, have done far too little in any formal capacity to build a message or GOTV organization, and even less to build up future leaders."

Brock said that the party's refusal to share voter data with non-endorsed candidates—in fact, to endorse in Democratic primaries in the first place—was counterproductive.

"It defies logic," he told Scene, on the subject of VoteBuilder gatekeeping. "The whole purpose of a political party in a two-party system is to defeat the opposing party in general elections. Thus, you need to be able to speak directly to voters. Furthermore, to increase voter turnout, which must be an overarching goal of the party as well, you have to know where the voters are and you have to go to them directly to make the case."

Brock said he believed VoteBuilder favoritism was "part and parcel of the larger infighting and inertia" that afflicts the party and has drastically reduced its influence and reputation statewide.

Eighteen-year-old Sam Klein, of Shaker Heights, is a student at Ohio State University and is running for the Central Committee after being recruited by Build Back Cuyahoga. Klein told Scene that he felt the party was leaving a ton of votes on the table due to a lack of voter engagement.

"Our county party is also pretty corrupt," Klein said. "Whether it be the purge of executive committee members last year or people being shut out of [VoteBuilder] access, or even high-ranking party officials using their resources to push forward candidates that do what they want."

Klein said he was running because he wants to help the party more effectively get out the vote, keep people engaged, and be "far more transparent and equitable" in its internal conduct. 

"If they keep trying to shut out younger people like me," he said, "It’s gonna be harder and harder to be successful down the line."

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About The Author

Sam Allard

Sam Allard is the Senior Writer at Scene, in which capacity he covers politics and power and writes about movies when time permits. He's a graduate of the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University and the NEOMFA at Cleveland State. Prior to joining Scene, he was encamped in Sarajevo, Bosnia, on an...
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