Endorsements Guide: How to Make an Endorsement

Chapters 1 and 2 discussed why campaigns care about your Indivisible group endorsement and what a powerful endorsement entails. Chapter 3 focused on the when -- whether you should get involved early in primaries. Chapter 4 looked at what factors you should consider when thinking about candidates and campaigns. 

This chapter discusses how your Indivisible group can go about making that endorsement: from getting to know a candidate to issuing your endorsement statement, you’ll learn what to do -- and what not to do -- when your group wants to throw its hat into the electoral ring.

Given this chapter’s length, we've given you some clear landmarks for what we’ll be covering in the sticky menu below. This chapter is the longest for a reason: understanding these steps and establishing a formal process around endorsements is the most effective way to get involved in a race while maintaining the integrity of your group. Our Organizing team is happy to talk through your process with you -- reach us by emailing field@indivisible.org

How to Set Up Your Group’s Endorsement Process 

Having a clear, fair process makes everything go smoother. In the weeks or months since your Indivisible group was established, you have had to make a number of internal decisions about how to operate. You’ve had to prioritize policy issues, choose which tactics to use to engage with your elected officials, and balance competing perspectives within your group itself. The fact that you are now looking to weigh in on politics by contemplating an endorsement shows that you’ve learned to work together as an organization. 

As your group wades into electoral work, you’ll need a similar fair, transparent process like you’ve used for legislative advocacy. Primaries are a healthy part of the political process, but they can still get heated. Most group members will be OK if their preferred candidate isn’t chosen, but they won’t be OK if they feel like the process was unfair. That’s why it’s vital that you decide on rules and internal policies for endorsements that are transparent, fair, and agreed upon ahead of time.

Step 1: Create a fair process. 

All your internal processes should be open, transparent, and inclusive. Ensuring that everyone feels heard and respected throughout the decision-making process will make it that much easier for your group to hit the ground running following any endorsement you choose to make. Here are key questions to answer when setting up your internal processes for endorsement (See Chapter 5: How to Make an Endorsement for more information):

  • Who makes the decision on process? In general, the person(s) currently running your group are the people best suited to run this process and be the point person for the decision. The group leader may delegate this role if there is another person suitable within the group, but be mindful that the point person may wind up spending a lot of time defending and clarifying the process as well as defending the eventual decision. The group leader, or their designated representative, will roll out the process, administer the process, determine the decision based on the vote, and announce the decision internally and externally.

  • Who can vote in your group? We would recommend that voting members be limited to people actively engaged with the group. Minimally, these are folks regularly attending offline meetings and events, but can also include people on other internal lists. You will have maximum buy-in from group members if you bring in the widest pool of people possible. That said, we err strongly on the side of not making voting open to publicly accessible venues like a public Facebook page, as these venues are susceptible to interference by candidates, their proxies, and trolls.

  • How will you vote? Voting systems matter! Just ask Putin. Seriously, the way you vote can determine who votes and whether or not your members feel the process was fair. Will you vote in person or online? Will the vote be anonymous or public?

  • What level of consensus do you need?  We’ve been hearing from a number of groups that they’re wary of engaging in a potentially contentious vote. One way to avoid that is to establish a required level of consensus your group agrees is fair from the get-go. Different groups chose different voting systems based on what worked best for them (i.e., ⅔ majority, plurality, consensus, etc.):

    • “We had set it up to have a two-thirds majority to win.” - Judy, Indivisible Lumpkin

    • “We needed a strong majority to consider a candidate endorsed. If the majority wasn't strong, we looked at the strength of the votes in the actual district. We didn’t have a strict threshold, it was more like a gut check that we were all on the same page.” - Christine, Indivisible Action Tampa Bay

    • “We let people rank the candidates on their responses to our questions” - Pinny, Indivisible Valley of the Sun
  • What happens to your group members who disagree? Except in the rare case where a group managed to achieve true consensus on a candidate, there will be some members of your group who would have preferred another outcome. We would recommend your group determine a plan for this in advance. One solution can be to clarify in advance that though the group will put their endorsement behind a candidate, individual members are welcome to volunteer in their personal time with any candidate. However, it’s critical that all group members agree to support the ultimate decision in their capacity as a member of the group -- leaving the debate and hard feelings in the deliberation space.

    “Gillum’s name was on the flyer we left at people’s doors, but if our canvassers weren’t feeling really pro-Gillum, they could still participate in the canvasses. They talked about the Senate race, or the County Commissioners races. We had a lot of canvassers that didn’t support Gillum in the primary, but we as a group did. We worked side by side. ” - Christine, Indivisible Action Tampa Bay

  • How will you roll the process out to group members? Last process question! You’ve determined all other parts of the process. Now you need to take the time to let your group members know that you are engaging in the primary, why that work is important, and what your structure and process will look like. Not everyone checks their email or attends the meetings, so it’s important to be vocal about all of this in multiple places.

Step 2: Determine in which races you’re going to endorse. 

Your thorough, fair, transparent internal process may reveal deep disagreements about the candidates in a given race. After the voting is done, your group may choose to stay out of an election altogether. That’s fine! That’s the whole point of a process. The important thing is that this is an affirmative decision your group makes using the fair, transparent process that you’ve all agreed upon. As your group considers whether or not to engage in an election, keep these two points in mind:

  • Engaging in elections isn’t an all or nothing choice. Your group’s decision may be different for primaries than for the general election, and it may be different for local races than for federal races. You may endorse in your congressional election primary, only get involved in the district attorney general election, and sit out the school board elections entirely. This is all reasonable and should be determined by your group’s process, not by anyone else.

    “We learned pretty quickly that some candidates may not want our endorsement. And some simply wouldn’t be able to earn it. But Hiral really understood the power of our endorsement” - Pinny, Indivisible Valley of the Sun

  • Your power, while mighty, is not limitless. There could be anywhere from a handful to dozens of races taking place in your area in any given election year. You likely won’t have the time or desire to engage in every single race. Before you begin the full endorsement process, decide how much capacity your group has. Endorse only when you’re confident you can commit real resources to the candidates you pick. This will likely limit the number of races you can engage in, but that’s OK! Choosing to begin the endorsement process in a race doesn’t necessarily mean you will wind up making an endorsement. But prioritizing your top races early in the process -- or deciding to stay out of endorsements entirely -- is the very first choice you should make.

When NOT to make an endorsement

Endorsing is not right for every group. Just as important as recognizing when to make an endorsement is recognizing when NOT to endorse. The prospect of getting to endorse a candidate can be thrilling. Still, it’s important to consider why you are endorsing and whether the process is working. If you’re not sure if you’re ready, you can reach out to field@indivisible.org to discuss further. If you find yourself falling into any of the below categories, it means you’re not in the right place to endorse

Don’t Make an Empty Endorsement

Are a lot of people in your group excited to work to support the candidate that you’re endorsing? If not, you’re not ready to endorse. Endorsements are a promise of hard work to come, and a commitment that your group is in it for the long haul. You don’t want to commit your group’s time and resources to a candidate you feel, at best, lukewarm about. Only endorse if your group members are enthusiastic about supporting the candidate -- in the end, it’ll come down to whether they’re going to work on the candidate’s behalf.

If you endorse just for the sake of endorsing, without enthusiasm from your group members, it could potentially undermine your power in the future. Candidates will be less likely to actively seek your endorsement in future cycles if they can’t be sure that you really mean it, and are committed to putting the weight of your organization behind helping get them elected.

Don’t Create an Exclusionary or Unfair Endorsement

Endorsement decisions need to be inclusive. Your group members need to feel that the endorsement process was fair, transparent and accessible. If members feel like they were kept out of the process, either through direct exclusion or lack of consideration of special circumstances (transportation accessibility, late-night meetings for parents of young children, meetings held in wheelchair-inaccessible buildings, etc.), the endorsement process will leave a sour taste in their mouth.

It is important that your endorsement process reflects your group’s progressive vision of inclusion and solidarity. If people feel the process was unfair or exclusionary, the endorsement process could potentially hurt your group. On the other hand, if people feel like the process was thoughtful and fair, they will be far more likely to accept the outcome, even if it leads to their non-preferred candidate.

Step 3: Team up with other Indivisible groups to stand Indivisible. 

Strength in numbers. The only thing better than the endorsement of one Indivisible group is the endorsement of every Indivisible group in the district.

Indivisible groups across the country have approached coordinating with other groups in a variety of ways--and how Indivisible groups work together on endorsements will vary quite a bit as well. But we are stronger when we stand Indivisible -- and that includes when endorsing candidates! There’s strength in numbers and if you choose to endorse together, you can have an even greater impact. It is also important to make sure multiple groups aren’t planning to come out with conflicting endorsements or messages without being aware.

Groups that work together will be more powerful because of it, and groups that endorse competing candidates may end up frustrated that they’re butting heads with each other. Here are some things to keep in mind about coordinating:

  • Reach out early. If you’re planning to endorse in a race you share with another Indivisible group, it’s a good idea to reach out to let other groups know - that way you can see if they have similar plans. It’s okay and expected that different Indivisible groups may prefer different candidates -- we’re all independent -- but you’ll want to know that at the beginning. And if you talk about why you disagree, you may find a way to work through your differences, develop a shared process, and agree to support the same candidate.

  • Consider a joint endorsement. Especially if there is a nearby group or groups you’ve successfully collaborated with in the past, consider coming together for an endorsement. In this case, you should work together to determine a decision-making process and make sure all group members are up to speed.

  • Be clear on your group’s process and values. Remember: before committing to work with another group, it’s important to ensure your values and priorities in a candidate are similar. Take the time on the front-end to talk about what you’re looking for, work out a process, and make sure the process is transparent for all your group members. If you’d like help connecting to other groups in your area, reach out to field@indivisible.org and an organizer from our team can follow up with you.

Endorsement Dos and Don’ts 

Don't: Bite off more than you can chew: For many groups, there will be over a dozen races that you could consider making an endorsement in. It can be tempting to weigh in on every single one, but doing so may drain your resources and cause you to burn out early in the election cycle.

Do: Remember that your endorsement is as meaningful as the commitment behind it. Be careful and selective in the races you choose to get involved in, so that you have the time and energy to devote to each one. 

Don't: Ignore other local Indivisibles: Your group should make the decision that is best for you and your members, but you should absolutely reach out to other local Indivisibles. 

Do: Coordinate with other groups in your area: Your endorsement will be even stronger in instances where you come to the same considered decision as others. Check in with your neighboring groups to see if they are considering making an endorsement, and coordinate whenever you can.

Don't: Endorse prematurely. Take time to determine how you will endorse and ensure your group members are on board.

Do: Establish a realistic timeline for endorsement, and ensure you have group buy-in. If your group is not prepared to make a decision, can’t decide how to make a decision, or is not invested in any of the candidates, you may not be ready to issue an endorsement this cycle.

Don't: Let a single person make the decision: Indivisible groups have been successful because of their people power. Don’t dilute that power now by putting the endorsement decision in the hands of a single person.

Do: Create fair and transparent processes for decision making. Make sure you are involving as many group members as is realistically possible in the decision-making process, and that everyone knows how the final decision will be made. Remember the importance of accessibility.

Don't: Relitigate fights from past elections: This election isn’t a rematch of the last. Don’t let your group become mired in old discussions of old elections.

Do: Keep your eye on the prize: Remember to take a step back and focus on the actual candidates and actual issues up in this election.

Don't: Slack on candidate research: Endorsements are public and definitive. You don’t want to be surprised at the last minute by information you could have found at the outset. 

Do: Gather all the facts before you make your decision. Make sure you head into the final decision with all the relevant facts.

Don't: Only follow the lead of other organizations: Looking into endorsements by other progressive organizations and grasstops leaders can be an element of your decision process, but should not be the only factor in your decision.

Do: Consider other organizations, but make your own decision: It’s helpful to see what other progressive organizations are saying to give context to your own endorsement, but make sure you are leading with your own values. 

Create a Timeline

Endorsements are most meaningful when you leave yourself enough time to have an impact on the election. It’s helpful to build a calendar backward from the election date, and figure out when to take action. 

You will want to make your final endorsement four to five months out for general elections and at least two to three months out for primary elections. This means you need to give yourself enough time to reach out to other Indivisibles, conduct candidate research, send questionnaires and pledges, and schedule Q&A sessions prior. You should plan to give yourself at least a month to conduct this research. Candidates have busy schedules, so you will want to get any “asks” into them as soon as you can.

Sample Timeline - General Election

Below is a sample timeline you can use when designing a process for endorsements for a general election. This timeline can be adapted for a primary -- just bump it up another 4-6 months. Download a version of this timeline here.

April 

  • Week 1: Evaluate what races will be on the ballot, and determine where your group wants to spend your resources making endorsements. Coordinate with other Indivisibles in the area to see if they are considering making an endorsement in the same races and if they want to develop a shared process. 

  • Week 2: Start doing research into candidate policies, teams, values, and viability

  • Week 3: Write candidate questionnaires and questions for Q&A sessions, if using. 

  • Week 4: Reach out to all candidates to schedule Q&A sessions and find a point of contact to send questionnaires and pledges. Send campaigns questionnaires and pledges, start holding Q&A sessions.

May 

  • Week 1: Finish any remaining Q & A sessions. Send around any collected research to all your group members, and consider sharing with other Indivisible groups as well. 

  • Weeks 2 and 3: Allow your group time to review any collected candidate research, Q&A’s, and questionnaires. 

  • Week 4: Hold a vote on which candidate, if any, to endorse (this can be within your group alone, or in coordination with other local Indivisibles). Alert all group members about the results of the vote. Consider coordinating media statements with other groups as appropriate.

June 

  • Week 1: Contact campaigns with the results of your endorsement process. Draft press release and begin media outreach on the results of your endorsement.

  • Week 2: Start gearing up for the general election. Begin planning out how you will work to help get your candidates elected, and get excited about the general election. We will be providing more background on how to get this done in the coming weeks and months.

Read More

How to Interact With Candidates 

Alrighty! So your group has done all the tough prep work. You’ve developed an internal process for endorsements. You’ve rolled that process out to your whole membership. You decided to explore making an endorsement in a race. And you’ve reached out to other local Indivisible groups to see if you can coordinate on the endorsement. 

So now what? Well, now you’ve actually gotta talk with the candidates in the race! As with the internal process work, this is a simple 3-step process. Here’s how: do your research, introduce your group, and have a conversation.

Do Your Candidate Research

Peek under the hood. Before reaching out directly to candidates or campaigns, you should do some research into the candidate’s stated values and policy positions. Determining how well a candidate’s stated policy stances match up with your group’s values often requires some digging. Here are some go-to resources to review:

  • Candidate websites. Almost every candidate has a section of their campaign website dedicated to “Issues.” This is the first place to go to check out where the candidate stands on the issues that matter to you. Keep in mind, a candidate’s website is friendly (or sometimes not-so-friendly) propaganda. Everything on there is made to sound good and make the candidate look great. That means that they may be incomplete, gloss over key questions, or not include information on controversial issues or positions.

  • Press coverage. All incumbents will have press coverage of their positions, and many candidates will too if they’re not total political newbies. Often candidates will purposefully or accidentally say things to press that they won’t put on their website. No need to get fancy in your research - just use Google News Search and search for the candidate’s name (and particular issues if that’s of interest Tip: you can use this research process to get ready to do your own media outreach later. As you read local stories, keep track of the reporters who are writing them. You’ll notice that the same four or five names keep coming up. Put those names in a spreadsheet, along with their contact information as you find it: this is your media list. Those are the key reporters covering this race, and they’re the same reporters you’ll be in touch with later on. 

  • Past votes (for incumbents). Once you’ve had a chance to look over the information they release publicly, it’s worth looking into their past positions. GovTrack.us has great resources that track current Members of Congress’ past votes and positions. Finding this information can be more challenging for state and local level incumbents. The National Conference of State Legislatures has a bill tracker you can use to find your legislator’s position on a specific piece of legislation, and LexisNexis also has some strong state and local resources, but this is definitely a heavier lift, and you shouldn’t be discouraged if finding this information is challenging. 

Flip-flopper? 

An important consideration of policy issues is the extent to which a candidate’s views on policy have shifted over the years. Back in 2004, John Kerry was attacked for being a “flip-flopper.” In 2012, Joe Biden and Barack Obama both evolved for the better on the issue of marriage equality, becoming champions for the right to marry ahead of that year’s election. 

Flexibility and a willingness to learn are crucial characteristics for a political candidate. At the same time, the consistency of values across a candidate’s history is also important. That’s why these kinds of shifts have to be evaluated on a case-by-case basis. 

Your group will have to evaluate how much emphasis to place on a candidate’s past positions. You don't want to discourage people from evolving and taking on better policy positions by dismissing it as flip-flopping. But if a politician has made a shift, it's important to understand why they made that shift and how they've put it into action in their words, decisions, and voting record if you're going to support them. 

When looking at the inconsistency in a candidate’s past statements, it can be helpful to see if those inconsistencies represent real learning and a willingness to admit mistakes on that candidate’s part or if they mainly shift their positions only when it becomes politically convenient. At the end of the day, you should look for candidates who have a record of championing issues most important to YOU.

Introduce Your Group to the Candidates 

The next step is reaching out to the campaign. It’s usually a good idea to reach out to the press secretary or communications director as the first point of contact. If your candidate is issuing press releases, their name and contact information will often be at the top of the release. That said, depending on how early in the campaign you get in touch, they may or may not have a dedicated communications staff. If you can’t figure out who to direct your initial query to, almost every campaign will have a “Contact Us” box on their website. 

When you get in touch, be sure to come prepared with information about who your group is (mission, size, and focus). Campaigns don’t have lots of time to research your group, so you’ll have better luck getting a response if you’re clear and concise about why they should pay attention to you and what you want from them.

At this stage, you may not have decided whether you’ll be supporting a candidate through independent spending or by coordinating directly with a candidate’s campaign. Protect your options by making sure you don’t receive any information about a campaign’s strategy or tactics that isn’t publicly available. 

Once you are ready to start planning your electoral activity, explore our Campaign Finance FAQs for more on independent vs. coordinated spending to help you make an informed decision when the time comes. Keep in mind that campaign finance laws vary at the local, state, and federal levels, so it may make sense for your group to consult a lawyer before engaging directly in electoral politics, particularly if you’re planning to raise or spend money on the election. 

Whether or not you’re planning to endorse, your group should find ways to get to know candidates better in person. If you want to invite candidates for a Q&A session with your members, remember to Invite all candidates, not just member-favorites, and draft a pre-set slate of starter questions to ask all candidates. It’s also a good idea to set a time limit on each Q&A session to make sure no candidate gets to spend more time with group members than others. 

Finally, if you have already hosted these Q&A sessions, you know that weekends are often better for working parents than school nights, and providing a livestream of the event can help group members who may not be able to make it in person. Be sure to consider whether the ways that you’re putting events together are making it as easy as possible for your members to be part of the process.

Note on Hosting Events with Candidates. In general, if you spend money on an event at which a candidate can advocate for their own election (or against someone else’s), that spending will be treated as an in-kind contribution to that candidate, unless the event falls into a specific exception. We recommend that groups avoid spending any money to host candidate events unless they have received guidance from a campaign finance attorney about how to structure the event. One way to avoid campaign finance implications is to host a candidate event without incurring any expenses. For instance, a group may be able to avoid spending money on a candidate event if they invite a candidate to do a Q&A at the end of the group’s regular meeting instead of hosting a separate event.

Remember these best practices to follow when interacting with candidates. 

  • Be Inclusive -- You should contact all candidates in a race, even if you’re fairly certain from the get-go that their policies won’t align with yours. In a primary race, this means you should reach out to all candidates -- even perennial “also-rans,” or “stunt candidates.” In the general election, you should absolutely reach out to candidates from both major parties, and you should consider soliciting information from any third party candidates in the race as well.

    “Josh actually had a primary opponent, and we invited them to come separately to speak at our regular meetings. Dave refused our invitation, but we did invite them both.” - Marisa, Indivisible Lumpkin

  • Be Systematic in Your Process -- Fairness means approaching every campaign in the same way. If you put together a candidate questionnaire (discussed below), make sure you are sending the same questionnaire to every candidate. If you invite one candidate to speak to your group one-on-one for a Q&A session, you should invite all candidates. It’s fine if not all candidates wind up accepting your invitation to fill out a questionnaire or participate in a Q&A -- what matters is that you offered all candidates the same opportunities to respond. It’s also fine to impose some limitations on candidates you’re willing to interact with or consider for endorsement as long as those limitations themselves are policy-related, clearly established, and fairly implemented. 

  • Stick to Issues -- Interactions with a candidate or a campaign are an opportunity to ask specific questions about the candidate’s policies and values. By this point in the endorsement process, you’ll know how a candidate is polling, how much fundraising money they’re bringing in, and what their campaign team looks like. While this is all crucial information, it is best to focus on policies and values during interviews or on questionnaires. You should avoid getting any inside information from the campaign on strategy or tactics, and stay focused on the issues, not the campaign process. 

Gather More Information

Beyond holding Q&A sessions, there are several ways you can interact with a candidate or campaign to get more information on the issues that matter most to you. You can send a campaign a candidate questionnaire, ask the candidate to sign a candidate pledge, or attend as a group events hosted and paid for by a campaign. 

Send a Candidate Questionnaire: one of the best ways of getting information from a campaign on the issues that matter most to you is to send the campaign a candidate questionnaire. The process of assembling the questionnaire can itself help your group clarify what issues you’re most focused on.

“We invited everyone from our group to join us to plan the questions we would ask the candidates, on issues that matter to us.” - Pinny, Indivisible Valley of the Sun

Designing your Questionnaire: so what issues should you include on your questionnaire? We all know there’s a lot at stake this election. Democrats need to fix our democracy and reverse the damage done by the Trump administration. We’ve outlined the issues we’re following closely in our 2020 Grassroots Playbook. We know these issues aren’t all-inclusive, but your group can use them as a jumping-off point for drafting your questionnaire.

Remember, these questionnaires are framed around the issues that matter most to your group; you don’t need to include every issue, and some questions may be more important to your group than others. Think about what pushing forward a progressive agenda looks like in your district. A good place to start is identifying if your group has any “dealbreakers,” issues on which the candidate must align to earn your endorsement. For example, in our national endorsement questionnaire, the candidate must support universal health care to pass.

When framing your questions, keep a few things in mind:

  • The candidate is the one looking to earn your endorsement, not the other way around. Don’t tailor a questionnaire to fit any one candidate, and don’t feel like you have to compromise if a candidate doesn’t align on the issues important to your group.

  • A candidate shouldn’t have to answer every question correctly to earn your endorsement, just the really important ones. The questionnaire is aspirational, written so that your ideal candidate would get a perfect score. In our national endorsement questionnaire, 80% is a passing grade, as long as the dealbreaker questions are answered correctly.

  • Some questions are about getting candidates on the record. If you end up endorsing, you can point to these responses to hold the candidate accountable to their positions.

To help you plan your questions, take a look at our National Endorsement Questionnaire

Keep it Simple! Campaigns are overstretched and don’t have a ton of people at the early stages -- so one poor staffer (or, in very local races, the candidate themselves) is probably handling all the questions that come in. It’s common for campaigns to answer dozens of questionnaires from different organizations and interest groups, and it’s actually a lot of work. Your odds of getting a response are higher if you minimize extra work:  for example, ask ‘yes or no’ questions -- do you support Medicare for all? -- instead of asking them to write a paragraph. If multiple groups you’re in touch with are sending in questionnaires, it’s smart to coordinate on a single set of questions.

How to Make the Endorsement

After all group members have had an opportunity to review candidate information, it is time to make a final decision on whether or not to endorse specific candidates. If you’ve done a good job of setting up a clear process at the beginning, this will be a lot easier. 

There are a number of ways your group can go about making its final decision, each with benefits and drawbacks. The most important thing is not the method, but the fact that the process is clear and fair from the beginning. 

First, set in place a clear plan for how the votes will be counted. There are a variety of ways your group can vote. Here are a few ideas you can consider: 

  • Two-thirds Majority (Recommended): The endorsement goes to the candidate who receives greater than 66% of the vote. You may need to vote multiple times to reach this percentage. This is our recommended method.

  • Consensus: All members of a group must be in agreement for an endorsement. This can be very difficult to achieve and is generally not recommended.

  • Plurality: The endorsement goes to the candidate with the most votes regardless of the percentage. This can result in a low level of buy-in, so is generally not recommended.

We strongly recommend requiring a two-thirds majority to move forward with an endorsement. After all, your endorsements only matter if a lot of people in your group are excited about the candidates you’re supporting. You could also require a mere plurality (going with the candidate with the most votes, regardless of what percentage of people voted for her), or a true consensus (where every member needs to agree to endorse). We’ve found that those options can either engender bad feelings or leave groups immobilized, unable to reach any decision at all. But you know your group best, and what will work best for you.  

You should also consider what to do if there are more than two candidates competing for your endorsement. We would recommend holding two rounds of voting: an initial count, and a runoff election. The initial election has all eligible candidates, and the runoff is between the top two vote-getters. It’s in this second election that we would advise requiring a ⅔ majority to move forward with an endorsement.  

Once you’ve determined a voting mechanism, figure out how and when you’ll vote. This can be during a regular meeting, online over a specified period of time, or in a meeting called specifically for this purpose. If this is likely to be a contentious vote, making voting anonymous (online or some other manner) can be really helpful in keeping the peace. 

Finally, if you’re taking a vote on a primary endorsement, we strongly recommend asking everyone to commit in good faith to support the eventual nominee. This is an important time to remind people of what’s ultimately at stake, and why it’s important that no matter who wins the primary, we’re united heading into the general.

Hold an In-Person Meeting

In-person meetings have the benefit of feeling more personal, and of allowing interaction among members of your group. If you choose to hold an in-person meeting, you may ask if any members want to speak up in favor of or against endorsing particular candidates. Do be sure to carefully facilitate this conversation, though, so that even if it’s contentious, it doesn’t overflow into ill-will. 

On the other hand, in-person meetings may be more challenging for some members of your group to attend. Single parents and group members who work in the evening may struggle to make it to nighttime meetings. Depending on where your meetings are held, and whether you have a group member qualified to serve as an ASL interpreter, some group members may also face accessibility issues for in-person meetings. Consider providing childcare, and the option for members to vote by proxy (sending a friend) or absentee (voting in advance) if they are unable to make it to the meeting.

Set up an Online Vote

You can also choose to conduct the final endorsement decision online, using online software to come to group consensus. Both Survey Monkey and Doodle can be used to create online polls that group members can vote in. Once you’ve created a poll, you can email it to group members. Online polls should not be shared on public websites like Facebook, to ensure non-group members aren’t influencing the vote. 

In general, online votes will be more accessible to group members than in-person votes, because online surveys can be taken on each member’s own time in their own home. Still, it is important to make sure your poll is clear and easy to understand. Some group members may be less familiar with online polling software than others, and may struggle to deal with new technology if there are too many options or if the options are unclear. 

Online votes are necessarily less personal than face-to-face meetings. This can help prevent arguments between group members, but also reduces the opportunity for dialogue about pluses and minuses of different candidates. Members often raise points during in-person meetings that would go unheard during an online poll. As a best practice, we recommend that even if you're ultimately going to be voting using an online poll, you hold at least one meeting to discuss the candidates before doing so.

Announcing Your Endorsement

Prepare to make your announcement. 

After your group has decided which candidate(s) to endorse, it’s time to announce that decision. There are three parties you’ll need to communicate your decision to: your group, the candidates, and the media.

Prepare a general statement about why you’re endorsing the candidate. You’ll use this language in multiple ways as you announce your news, so this is an important starting place! The statement should be short -- no more than three paragraphs -- and should be fully focused on the candidate and why you are excited to work on their behalf in the upcoming election. This is a great place to highlight particular policy stances your group supports and to demonstrate the importance of those policies in securing your endorsement. It can include one or two quotes from group members and should end with a line reemphasizing your group’s excitement to work for the candidate.

Telling your group.  

Regardless of how you conducted your vote, there will inevitably be some group members who were unable to participate. It’s vital that all group members are informed about your endorsement decision before you go public. Having some group members read about the decision after the fact in the press would be particularly bad for morale. 

Prepare an Internal Statement. Whoever controls your group’s Facebook group, email list, or other way of communicating with your membership should be in charge of drafting an internal statement. The statement should reiterate the decision-making process, the results of the vote, and why you are excited to endorse the candidate(s) you’ve chosen. It is also a good idea to give a heads up as to what your group will be doing in support of the endorsement -- such as canvassing, phone banking, and voter registration efforts. 

Telling the candidates. 

You should inform both your endorsed candidate and any other candidates you considered. After all, they did take the time to fill out your questionnaire and go through your process.

Contact the Candidates. Send your general statement along with a quick note to any candidates who responded to your candidate questionnaire, thanking them for their time, and letting them know who your group decided to endorse. Make sure to let the candidate you’ve decided to endorse know first, and then send to all other candidates. You can also ask your endorsed candidate if they’d like to contribute a quote to your press release, or if they’d like to organize a joint announcement to the press.

Remember: if you spend money on publicizing your endorsement to the general public, federal, state or local campaign finance laws may apply. It also may be prudent to check whether endorsement communications to the general public are required to have authority lines that state, among other things, who’s making the communication and whether or not it was authorized by any candidate.

Telling the media. 

Now it’s time to tell reporters about your decision. Your goal here is to insert your endorsement into the narrative of the race.

Prepare a Press Release. Whoever handles external communications should work on drafting a press release about your endorsement. If you have a dedicated spokesperson, that’s great. If not, a group member who enjoys writing can take on the responsibility.

First, Consider Offering an Exclusive. Offering an “exclusive” means reaching out to a single reporter and asking if they’d like to hear who your group will be endorsing before anyone else, in exchange for agreeing to write a story about it. This tactic takes some extra steps, but it’s the best way to get a story specifically about the endorsement, right at the time you want it. Often, a reporter may decide that “Organization Endorses Candidate” doesn’t merit its own story, but instead will note this type of development and plan to mention it in an upcoming story. When a reporter knows their story will be unique and will be the first to deliver a “scoop,” it sweetens the deal and makes the story more interesting for them and their editors. If reporters you contact with this tactic aren’t interested, that’s OK! Skip ahead. 

  • If you have a good, friendly relationship with a local reporter: Reach out to the reporter about a week in advance to offer an exclusive. If the reporter agrees to an exclusive story, be prepared to tell them what your endorsement means: how will your group use its people power to help your candidate? They need these details to fill in the column-inches that will make their story work. You can point to planned future events, or highlight how your group has mobilized around a past endorsement.  

  • If not: You can still use a similar tactic to up your chances of a story getting published. Find a reporter who’s been covering the race. Read a couple of stories to make sure you think their coverage has been fair. A day or so in advance, email them and offer to share an exclusive copy of your press release in advance. When you share it, write “EMBARGOED UNTIL” at the top, and list the time and date that you are OK with the story going public. The reporter may pass, or say yes.

    Note: A group member posting on social media about who you’re endorsing before the story breaks could mess up the story, and possibly your relationship with this reporter. You should be very clear with group members about this, or consider limiting the circle of group members you inform during this period. Think through this timeline carefully and balance these priorities in a way that feels right for your group.

Then, Send Your Press Release Out Far and Wide. Send the statement out to local press, remembering to BCC all contacts. Make sure you’ve included anyone who covers local campaigns and elections. If you don’t know who that is, check the newspaper’s masthead, or search to see who has recently written stories about other races. Twitter is also a great tool for finding reporters’ contact information.

Finally, Post your Statement Online. Post your public statement on your website and social media accounts. 

There Wasn’t a Story About Our Endorsement! 

Even if reporters don’t cover your endorsement when it happens, they may talk about it down the line. When local Indivisible groups endorsed Lauren Underwood in IL-14, there was no headline in the local papers about it. But once Underwood won her election in November, stories about her victory mentioned local Indivisibles and their role in her win. It’s always recommended that you do media outreach and put out a press release, because it can lead to media coverage that grows your group’s capacity and our movement as a whole.

Now the Fun Starts!

Once you’ve made your endorsement announcements, election season swings into full gear. Stay tuned over the coming months to learn more about best practices for political campaigning, and how your group can have a real impact on electoral politics. Finally, always feel free to reach out to field@indivisible.org to let us know what resources would be most helpful to your groups. You are the leaders of this movement, and we’re excited to stand Indivisible with you as you take on electoral politics. 

Sample Process Template

As explained above, every group should approach these decisions in a way that is best for your group and keeps with your values. To aid in your process, below is a sample (imagined) process from start to finish that you can tailor to your needs. You can download a version of this template here.

Indivisible ABC is excited that there are several fantastic candidates running for mayor in their city! It’s five months before the primary election -- things are starting to heat up and the group is thinking about getting more actively involved. There are a few really great progressive candidates in the race, and this election could make a big impact in their city. 

Start the Conversation

Indivisible ABC has some members that are really excited to get involved with the election, and some others who are nervous it will cause fractures within the group. Using this guide, their primary group leader Ana started talking with their members about the importance of endorsements, why they’re powerful, and all of the good reasons to engage in a primary. At the same time, their outreach coordinator, Jessie, began to discuss the possibility of endorsing with the other four Indivisible groups in their city. 

Make a Decision to Consider an Endorsement

After having several conversations as a full group and with other groups in the area, Ana gets together Indivisible ABC’s steering committee of five people. They weigh the pros and cons of endorsing and decide that this election is too important for the future of their city for them to sit out-- they need to get involved. They feel confident that their group can have a productive conversation about the issues and will be prepared to come together in the general election, no matter the outcome. Now, they need to determine how they will run the process. The other four groups in the city also decide to endorse but choose to participate in Indivisible ABC’s vote, instead of holding their own, because they’re much smaller.

Have a Leadership Meeting to Determine a Process

A week later, Ana sets a time for a two-hour-long steering committee meeting to determine the process. At this point, there are four months until the primary election, so her group has a month to run the process, and then three months to actually get involved in the election. In advance of the meeting, Ana takes the time to write out a clear, timed agenda. She sends the agenda to her steering committee on the morning of the meeting. 

When the meeting starts, Ana walks through clear norms and the steering committee agrees that each decision requires three positive votes from the five members of the steering committee. The entire steering committee needs to agree to the final process and will leave any small disagreements behind once they’ve made a decision. Together, the steering committee answers the following questions from the Endorsement Guide: 

  • Who makes the decision on the process? The entire steering committee will set the process as outlined above. 

  • Who can vote? Any group member who has attended an action or meeting in the last six weeks is eligible to vote on the endorsement. The steering committee will send out the list of eligible members a week in advance of the meeting. 

  • How will you vote? The group will vote anonymously. They will all come together for a meeting and cast a secret ballot. Group members will be allowed to send a proxy or cast a ballot early by absentee.  

  • What level of consensus do you need? The group will only move forward with a candidate that receives two-thirds majority. After the first vote, the two highest vote winners will go to a second round if none receives two-thirds in the first vote. 

  • What happens to members who disagree? The group’s planned election activities will be around the endorsed candidate. All members are encouraged to join but are welcome to canvass or phone bank for other candidates as individual volunteers. They will agree in advance that no group members will speak poorly of the group’s endorsed candidate even if that was not their first choice and any members who chose to volunteer for other candidates will not represent the group when doing so. 

  • How will you roll out the process to group members? The entire process will be outlined in an upcoming group meeting, posted on the private group Facebook group and sent out to the list. This will include all the information outlined above about the process.

​​Announce the Endorsement Process

Once the steering committee of Indivisible ABC finalizes their process, they announce it to their group at the next group meeting. They make it clear that this process is finalized, but accept all questions about the decision making and the process itself. Ana and the rest of the steering committee stay late after the meeting to answer additional questions and follow up individually with members who have concerns. 

Do the Research

The candidate research committee researches the candidates’ current positions, previous votes and sends out the candidate pledge. This research had been going on over the last few weeks but ramps up in the runup to the vote. The research is finalized two weeks before the group endorsement vote, which is about 3.5 months before the primary. 

Send the Group Candidate Information

Two weeks before the endorsement vote meeting, the candidate research committee sends around information to all the members for review. This includes the candidate pledge, an outline of each candidate and a shorter document that summarizes the major differences between the candidates. This is sent out a few times on different platforms.  

Hold the Endorsement Meeting

About three months before the primary, endorsement day arrives! After giving group members two weeks to review the candidate information, the voting meeting is held. 

  • Accessibility: The meeting is held in an ADA accessible space and group members are able to vote either by proxy or in advance by absentee if they’re unable to attend. All group members receive a list a week in advance of who is permitted to participate in voting. One group member who has never attended an event shows up -- a group member explains the process and voting requirements. The group member commits to come to the next event and leaves understanding the process. 
  • Conversation: Ana introduces the agenda for the evening and sets norms. She begins by clearly explaining the entire endorsement process and voting structure. The candidate research committee then presents each candidate in the race. There is a representative from the group who supports for each candidate who speaks for three minutes about what sets that individual apart, followed by five minutes of questions for each candidate. Since there are 100 people at the meeting, there is no group-wide discussion -- instead, there is a 20-minute breakout where folks can discuss with one another. 
  • Disagreements: During the breakout, there are a few small arguments that break out between proponents of different candidates. Luckily, the steering committee had pre-identified several moderators who float around to assure all conversation is productive. They approach any groups that are having a serious disagreement and bring the conversation back to the issues in a positive direction. The moderators also use this opportunity to remind folks that at the end of the night, everyone will agree to get behind one candidate as a group.  
  • Voting: Indivisible ABC casts secret paper ballots. After two rounds of voting, they are able to pick a candidate by an over two-thirds majority! The steering committee announces the results and reminds folks of the norms they had agreed to earlier in the evening. They also share their first actions to support that candidate. 

Make the Announcement

Once the decision has been made, Indivisible ABC puts together a statement to notify all group members of the decision. After group members are notified, the press team crafts a public statement. They first send it to the candidate they endorse, followed by the candidates they didn’t endorse (with a note thanking them for completing the candidate pledge) and then to a local press list. Indivisible ABC then kicks into high gear in support of their endorsed candidate by signing up to knock doors and phone bank.

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