For lesbian activists and grassroots organizers fighting the Christian Right.
Idaho Vote Analysis
There has been a heated national debate going on for years about how to defeat anti-lesbian and -gay ballot initiatives. Some take the "winning is everything" approach, saying that visibility actions which might upset straight voters should be put on hold until the legislative assaults are over. Others say the ballot initiatives are not a fight chosen by our movement, and we should therefore focus solely on visibility and movement-building instead of on campaigns. We believe these objectives do not have to be separate. The Lesbian Avengers Civil Rights Organizing Project set out to prove that visibility and courage builds movements and wins votes. The following is a detailed analysis of the voting results in the 1994 Idaho vote.
Statewide, it was an extremely tight race. "No" votes put down the anti-gay initiative with just 50.4% of the votes. That means that out of 406,265 ballots cast, 3,098 votes made the difference. In fact, all of the anti-lesbian and -gay initiative races leading up to and including Idaho have been won or lost with very small numbers of votes. This means that using as many strategies as possible, that speak to varied constituencies, can make a difference.
Every county that LACROP worked in produced a "No" vote that exceeded the statewide average of 50.4%, even when compared to counties with similar political and economic histories.
In Bonner County, an extremely rural region in the far North, where Human Rights Task Force meetings are routinely disrupted by swastika-wearing Aryan Nations members, we won the initiative by 54%. In the town of Sandpoint (pop. 5,000), the location of our Bonner County door-to-door canvassing efforts and anti-censorship direct action, we won by 75%.
In Nez Perce County, a working-class, historically conservative timber county with no history of lesbian and gay organizing, we won by 54%.
In Latah County, where our home base of Moscow is located, we won by 61%, or 3,005 votes. While Moscow is a relatively liberal town, the rest of the county is not. We won by 58-64% in the other small, conservative, farming towns of Latah County where we helped rural lesbians and gay men organize literature drops and public forums.
By comparison, counties that LACROP did not work in did not fare so well. Kootenai County, the north's largest county, was considered by No on One field coordinators to be pivotal in whether Idaho defeated Proposition One. It is often considered the second most "liberal" county in northern Idaho, next to Latah. Kootenai was the site of the northern "No on One" office, where they centered their yard sign, phone bank, and other mainstream campaign efforts. LACROP members were strongly discouraged from doing visibility work with local organizers in Kootenai County. Kootenai County lost, with only 46% "No" votes.
Out of the ten northern counties, Proposition One was defeated in the three counties in which we worked, and two others: Shoshone, where we did not work at all, and Lewis, where we did minimal work. Some campaign analysts have used this as proof that our work was electorally insignificant. But Shoshone voted overwhelmingly liberal that year; in fact, it was one of two counties in the entire state where more people voted for Democratic gubernatorial candidate Larry Echohawk than voted "No" on Proposition One. This is significant because Echohawk lost heavily throughout the state, and because, as Attorney General, he had been vocally against Proposition One. In other words, there are not many reasons somebody would vote for Echohawk and "Yes" on One, but in Shoshone many people did.
Lewis County, the other northern county where Proposition One was defeated, is predominantly Nez Perce (the reservation takes up most of the county), and historically anti-homophobic. No on One did not do any work in Lewis County. LACROP actually did do some work there (a literature drop), but not a sustained organizing effort, due to the fact that our contacts developed there late in the campaign season.
The four northern counties not discussed here passed Proposition One by overwhelming margins, as did most of the southwestern region of the state. In fact, in Ada County (in the southwest where the state capital of Boise is located), the area with the largest gay population, the most gay groups, and the only gay bars in the state, the Proposition was defeated by only 2725 votes out of almost 97,000 (51%).
These county returns on Proposition One clearly indicate that LACROP's strategy worked. The entire state of Idaho (population 1 million) defeated Proposition One by 3,098 votes. The three counties targeted by LACROP (population 85,000) defeated it by 4,785 votes; without those three counties, Idaho would have passed Proposition One.
A Final Note: The above analysis does not mean that closeted approaches can't win elections-they can, and they have. But when closeted approaches lose, it's absolutely devastating to the community-ask activists in Colorado or Cincinnati. On the other hand, even if a pro-visibility approach loses (and this hasn't happened yet, to our knowledge), there is still a lot gained during the campaign (see "After the Vote").
Doing Your Own Analysis
After you have done the work in your area, and after the vote is in, it is a good idea to do your own analysis of the votes. Some of the information you need will be in the local papers the following day or two. Other information can be obtained from your local election board. Don't just look at overall vote counts. Compare the areas in which you canvassed to the ones in which you did lit. drops (if you did things differently in different places). Compare the towns in which you worked to other similar places in which you didn't. Compare votes on the initiative to other blatantly conservative and liberal races. This kind of information, while never totally conclusive, can give you a basis for future work and will also help you to send out media stories in which you can document the value of your work in ways that people understand.
The vote analysis, however, is not the only kind of evaluation you can do.
Your whole core group should get together to discuss which things worked or
didn't, and why. Talk about what you might do differently next time. And
consider other things you can do to evaluate your work and to keep the energy
going after the vote.
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