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Why I’m A Delegate To The State Democratic Party

And how you can be one too.

Barbara Lee speaking at the 2019 California Democratic Party State Convention (Gage Skidmore/Flickr)

Two years ago, a friend called me and asked me to run to be a delegate to the state Democratic Party. I had no idea what I was signing up for. I had never heard of such a thing, but I was on a high from The Squad winning the 2018 midterm elections and the largest delegation of women in congress ever. Feeling the need to stop wallowing from 2016, I decided to get more involved.

I ran and I won. I was the second highest vote recipient with… drum-roll…228 votes. The entire process astounded me, and the more I learned about how the state party is organized, the more I felt like Miranda Priestly was giving me the smack-down about the cerulean sweater. The choices on my ballot have been selected and filtered for me already, and state delegates help make those choices.

The California Democratic Party is made up of roughly 3,000 members. There are some good visual explainers out there, but basically you can break it down into thirds. One third are elected officials — your Democratic Mayors, Assembly members, State Senators, U.S. Senators, Governor, etc. All elected officials also get additional appointed delegates (number varies by rank). The other third are “Central Committee” members — members of each of the 58 California County Democratic boards. Those are publicly elected positions as well, and when the next election for those happen (primary of the next Presidential election), I’ll write another how-to as well.

The last third are ADEMs: Assembly District Election Meetings. Each assembly district (there are 80 in the state) sends 14 delegates (7 males and 7 self-identified females) that serve two-year terms. You can find you assembly district here.

The process is fairly quick and over in about 4 weeks. You first have to file to run and the deadline is December 15. You’ll need $30 (and if you have a hard time with that, I will personally connect you to organizations that can sponsor you). You then have to get people to *request* their ballots and then actually *return* their ballots. Voters have to be registered democrats that live in the district you are running in. Since that might be a bit hard for you to do, people tend to run in “slates” (i.e. an info-graphic of 7 males and 7 females). That way if someone on your slate gets 10 people to vote for them, the voter will have the entire slate list and they will also vote for you! If each slate mate gets 15 individuals to vote, that’s already 210 votes for you!

Why is this important? ADEMs get to vote on important decisions — like who should lead the party, what platform the party should adopt, and most importantly, who the party should endorse for state-wide positions and state ballot propositions. This is a huge opportunity for progressives to influence policy and elected officials. In 2019, progressive candidates won over 50% of the seats. In 2018, ADEMs were THE reason Dianne Feinstein did not receive the state Democratic Party endorsement, 65% of delegates choosing to endorse her more progressive opponent Kevin de León. ADEMs also get to join caucuses, like the women’s caucus, the environmental caucus, and the progressive caucus and have your voice and policy solutions heard and adopted.

I see ADEMs as a straightforward way to diversify our party. With a low barrier to entry, it is also a way to get younger people into decision-making positions within the party. We desperately need more Millennials and Gen Z (shout out to Alex Lee, our first Gen Z legislator) to get in the arena.

If you were looking for ways to get involved with the Democratic party, now is the time to sign up. Do it. Do it now. The work does not end just because we will have a new president. Local and state politics MATTER. Again, the deadline is December 15. If you are based in Los Angeles, reach out to me and we can get you on a progressive slate.

Let’s get you elected.