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  • Writer's pictureMichael Sales

Politics in the Anthropocene: Yes Virginia, All Politics Will Still Be Local in the Future, but the Definition of “Local” is Going to Change

A Galaxy Cluster that is Presently Viewed as the Largest Structure in the Universe: James Webb Space Telescope

2024 is shaping up to be a year of destiny for Planet Earth. Elections will be held in 64 countries plus the European Union. 49% of the world’s population will have the opportunity to cast ballots. None will be more important to the future than America’s where one candidate for the Presidency has declared that he intends to suspend the Constitution of the United States and declare himself dictator, but “only for one day.”

Here’s a long sentence: 

Given the pressing reality of climate change and the ever-deepening awareness of so much that technology is providing Earthlings with regarding the vastness and the multi-dimensional nature of our universal context and the infinite depth of our own individual and collective psyches, what happens in the 2024 elections would seem to be definitional regarding humanity’s ability to create an inquisitive future or a decision to cling to a reactionary past that will lead to ethnic tribalism and war. 

50 years ago the famous American politician, Tip O’Neill (at right), asserted that “all politics are local,” and that remains true. Every neighborhood has its own character, culture and issues.

Every home and every neighborhood is nestled within the context of many Matryoshka dolls. Increasingly, that set of dolls is extending into an endless variety of contexts. The more information one is exposed to and the better the tools for the management of information one’s education provides, the more one realizes that the local is shaped by the distant and the distant can be shaped by the local. 

The character of localism both exists in the way that O’Neill described and is changing into something much bigger. 

At a minimum, anyone thinking locally must also see that global conditions impinge upon every street-level reality. Earth is a unitary system. It has no boundaries between external phenomena or internal ones either. Unfortunately, pollution, such as that from microplastics and the carbon emissions that are ruining the atmosphere, are all part of the emerging global-localism. Ψ 

Of course, all this is quite maddening, because what can one not pay attention to and how can one proceed if one needs to and tries to pay attention to everything. 

Obviously, an expansion in consciousness is necessary.

A Consciousness Pilgrim Discovering New Territory

An expansion in consciousness is not the same as learning something new. It’s knowing something new, something bigger than what one knew before.  

The Imperfections of this Essay

This paper is a review of a process that was largely written in two settings, two weeks apart from each other. There are some ways in which this process produces redundancies. 

Here I lay out a system called the Hot Button Action Team (HBAT) by which anyone at any location can dig into local conditions within the context of an understanding of the general. Its objective is how to increase voter turnout in hotly contested districts in the United States, but it probably could be adapted to any democratic society. It’s very much a work in progress, and it’s clearly incomplete as a theory for action in some spots, as well as needing much more data than is presented to be a thorough test of the ideas. 

This is an emergent learning project that is presently incomplete. For example, my primary focus is on helping an on-the-ground team identify useful conversations to have and how to listen to the people they meet and interact with in various ways. 

This has not yet happened in a robust way.

So, the map is incomplete and the territory is not yet extensively explored. 

However, the HBAT experiment does suggest a long term strategy to move from building an understanding of the general to taking action at the local level. It focuses specifically on promoting precinct level activism in US Congressional districts where doing so might advance a variety of outcomes positive for Anthropocean citizenship and education in particular.

It differs from the work of political parties, which also focus intently on the precinct level. The HBAT focus is pro-democracy. This is not a time to be partisan. According to polls, “75% of all Americans agree that democracy is the best system of government.” No political party polls at this level. HBAT is about finding out what community leaders in poor performing precincts within closely contested political arenas experience, want, and need. The best way to find out is to learn from them.

It’s a product of work I’ve been doing with Elders for Sound Democracy. It hopes to be a guide to doing a particular kind of political fieldwork. 

Hot Button Action Team How To Manual Pt I

Michael Sales, Ed.D.

Elders for Sound Democracy

© January 2024


The purpose of ESD’s Hot Button Action Teams (HBAT) is to: 

  • Increase voter turnout in Congressional districts where the margin of victory by the winning candidate was within 2% in the 2022 elections. 

The strategy for accomplishing this goal is to: 

  • Determine what concerns arouse significant or deep passions in smaller subdivisions of that district. These are the ”Hot Buttons” that move voting. 

  • Identify specific precincts in the district where an improvement in civic engagement and voter turnout could have an impact locally and statewide.

  • Build a committed team of 8-12 analysts on the ground in the district in question. However, the initial steps can be done by a smaller team via Internet research and group discussion.

  • Find and study a wide range of information sources to pinpoint driving issues at the local level, locate particular precincts where concerted action could have the highest payoff, and build relationships and networks with and among sound democracy advocates engaged in those topics on the ground.

  • Discover specific individuals and groups in the precincts being analyzed with whom the Hot Button team could and will interact to find discrete ways for ESD to be supportive, e.g., by suggesting strategies, foci, and tactics that activists on the ground could experiment with 

  • Move to joint action with local activists when HBAT members or the team as a whole believe that it is appropriate to do so.

This preliminary review of HBAT activity focuses on Arizona Congressional District 6.

349K votes were cast in the district in 2022, with a MAGA Republican winning by a margin of 5,300 votes or 1.4% of the total. He was opposed by a Democrat who practices environmental law and worked for the Environmental Protection Agency.

Action Research

Action research is an iterative process weaving research action and reflection together into an ongoing loop of learning. 

HBAT’s initial step is to specify issues that arouse local passions in these areas under study and discover sound democracy activists who have a palpable stake in the outcomes of the elections there. 

The team begins the process by discussing the initial impressions that people have of the region and question and considering the sources of information by which they would gain more clarity on the degree to which a topic is a hot button.

It is important that these discussions – and all of those which follow –  be conducted in a respectful fashion. There are many people of goodwill supporting sound democracy who hold differing perspectives on what issues, social policies and behavioral norms are most important for the district in question. 

Questions to ask in the initial meeting:

  1. What do you think are the key drivers of the district’s social and political activity? (For example, immigration, gun violence, crime, economic inequality, water, regional planning, indigenous rights, education, economic development, housing, climate and environments, etc.) 

  2. Who are the thought leaders in the district? Academics, political figures, journalists, social media influencers, business leaders, wise elders, etc. are all examples of thought leaders who may have insight into what’s what in a district. 

  3. What information sources could/should the team monitor with, e.g., standard newspapers, television and radio stations, blogs, social media sites, etc.

Juan Ciscomani

Arizona’s 6th Congressional District is the arena to which this methodology is being applied in this discussion.  

Kirsten Engel

Approximately 350,000 votes were cast in this district, which was won by a Republican, Juan Ciscomani, who has refused to state that Biden is the legitimate president of the United States. Ciscomani voted twice to elect Jim Jordan, an explicit 2020 election denier to be Speaker of the House of Representatives. Ciscomani’s opponent, Kirsten Engel, is an environmental lawyer who worked for the Environmental Protection Agency. 5,300 votes or 1.5% of the electorate constituted his margin of victory.  

Several domains were discussed as possible foci during the first conversation among the members of the Arizona 6 team:  

how groundwater depletion was affecting the present and the future in the district, 

  • the importance of 2nd Amendment rights in the district, 

  • immigration policy and border pressures

  • urban/rural tensions

  • the role of white supremacy in the district

  • over-development

Commitments were made by team members to review local news sources to test the degree to which these are hot buttons. Subscriptions were either shared or paid for. 

Digging into the data to find the hot button

After one team member supplied a list of all of the newspaper sources covering the district, team members showed up at the next and subsequent meetings with data based on their data reviews and conversations that deepened their understanding of the topics that had been identified.

For example:

  • Preliminary analyses of each of AZ-6’s five counties indicated that one relatively populous county, Pinal, was fairly closely contested, while two rural ones, Greenlee and Graham, seemed to be places where political views were relatively fixed and vote totals were not large. Another somewhat rural county, Cochise, was identified as being of interest because there are a lot of votes there and two of its commissioners with MAGA ties were recently indicted for being unwilling to certify the results of the 2022 election by the statutory deadline. The most populous county, Pima, votes strongly Democratic. 

  • The role of agribusiness, especially that of huge farms owned by Saudi-Arabian interests in depleting groundwater supplies was explored further via data presented by one team member. Smaller farmers’ livelihoods are being threatened as large firms drill wells up to 800 feet deep to tap aquifers that long-time local farmers cannot afford to get at. Specifics regarding how Arizona manages (or doesn’t) its groundwater. Information regarding the roles played by particular long-standing legislators in resisting the regulation of water usage was presented and explored. 

  • Data regarding the power of the local sheriff in Cochise County, and the role of  “Reconstructionist” or “Dominionist” Christianity in Cochise County in particular was explored. Possible connections between attacks on teenagers (including one murder) by organized gangs that may be tied to Turning Points USA, a rapidly growing “conservative” organization at work in high schools and colleges in the district and across America attracted attention.

  • One team member has been having extensive interactions with a community leader in Cochise County, exploring the impact of border tensions on the County and the District as a whole, including the fact that immigrants seeking asylum are, apparently, dumped in local communities without a clue of what to do next. 

  • A set of databases naming eldercare facilities throughout the state and in the district is under review as a prospective way to make sure that all of these residents are registered to vote.

While all this work has been excellent, the team has not yet identified one particular focus nor is it yet large enough or facile enough with data management to divide its attention between the several possible domains it finds of interest. Similarly, while many influencers and thought leaders have been mentioned, e.g., local journalists and academics, other than a couple of notable exceptions, more needs to be done to reach out to these sources of information and opinion leaders. 

Here’s a screenshot of the AZ-6 project’s Google Drive, which gives an indication of the topics under discussion. Each folder is composed of documents relevant to the subject headings. The number of subheadings and contents of the folders grows daily.

(Learning how to use Google Drive and populating it with documents is likely to be an important training activity in and of itself.) 

Additionally, the team organizer has compiled an ever-growing list of webpage links related to the project in his search engine’s bookmarks. There are presently about 100 of these, and they are probably just the tip of the iceberg.

Each of these links contains useful information regarding the conditions in the district, and its subdivisions and many prospective contacts with specific groups and individuals that the team could and may track down.

Precinct Analysis

I believe that it is the case that voting in every county in the US takes place in precincts. The results of precinct votes are aggregated into a county-wide report, which is formally certified by the branch of county government charged with monitoring elections. 

For larger counties, of course, these results can be voluminous. For example, there are 2,500+ pages of data in the "Official Canvas" of Pima County, where Tucson is located. Imagine the scope of this document for Cook County Illinois

Of course, I envy the political parties and organizations that study politics and political campaigns for a living and have sophisticated computerized systems to pile through the information at a rapid clip. 

That was not the case here, and it's likely not to be the case for the user of this manual either. Plus, the information is quite often in PDF form, from which it is not easy to extract data. Furthermore, the nature of these summaries varies greatly by County. Pinal county in AZ-6, for example, allows the user to choose to focus on particular races and propositions on the ballot, which simplifies the analysis greatly in comparison to the neighboring Pima County where there is page-after-page coverage of all elections by precincts. 

For the purposes of a HBAT's work, It's important to “live” in the middle of data like these in order to develop hypotheses regarding what precincts to focus on.

There are 25 precincts in Pinal county. 10 of these were eliminated from the study because the victor's margin of victory was over 60%, indicating to this reviewer that the politics and power structure of the precinct are relatively fixed.

Here’s an example of the kind of information that can be developed from these county reports:

Without getting too far down into the weeds, a few things stand out:

  • A total of approximately 13,000 registered voters did not do so

  • Turnout was less than 45% in six precincts and, in one case, only 28%.

  • There was a tight correlation between votes for candidate Engel, environmental lawyer, and votes against Proposition 309, a statewide ballot item that would have required further tightening of voter identification. This proposition was narrowly defeated statewide but carried Pinal County with a 57% margin. 

  • Engel opposed this proposition, which ESD would describe as a voter suppression effort. She either won or came very close to winning all of the precincts where Prop 309 was defeated. 

  • Most of the precincts where Prop 309 was turned back had turnout of less than 45%. 7,600 people who could've voted in those precincts did not.

  • What is going on in those precincts?

Putting it together

Ideally, The HBAT team would compile both insights from the analysis of sources and a database of contacts with opinion leaders and activists to have a fairly good picture of what the hot button issues are in the precincts of interest.

Virtually and through face-to-face meetings, members of the team would connect with influential individuals in the precinct to finetune their collective understanding of the dynamics in each of the precincts being focused on.

Through those individual contacts, the team would determine how relevant the hot button thinking coming out of the first phase of research really is to a particular precinct. For example, it seems likely that opposition to voter suppression (Prop 309) was important to voters in these particular precincts, while it was much less of an issue in other parts of this county wheapre the proposal won by significant margins. 

Because the HBAT teams are part of the Elders Action Network (EAN) and Elders for Sound Democracy (ESD), there are a variety of support activities that it could offer to leaders in these precincts, for example:

  • Broadcasting the needs of precinct activists throughout the ESD and EAN communities

  • Doing research to support precinct activists

  • Hosting  precinct activists at town halls with audiences drawn from the larger district and beyond that would be supportive of their work 

  • Alerting activists at the precinct level to the existence of  knowledgeable personnel across the ESD network and within the larger district of which the precinct is a part, who might advise them on strategy and tactics 

  • Listening closely and compassionately from a learning orientation to the obstacles activists face and opportunities they might not have noticed or fully appreciated.

  • Becoming familiar with sound democracy advocates across the political spectrum in the Congressional district that might give precinct activists access to support networks with which they are unfamiliar

Reflections on the Role of the Team Organizer

The team organizer’s primary responsibilities are to demonstrate that team members can:

  • Find a wealth of information about almost any topic that is of interest to them

  • Organize that information into knowledge that points to action

  • Get on the ground and form impressions of the nature of the precincts they are studying and 

  • Make person to person and face-to-face connections with key players in the precinct under study

Ideally, the team organizer would live within close proximity of the district where key precincts I've been identified. However, this is not absolutely necessary.

The team organizer needs to be fairly adept at doing Internet research and navigating social media.

Before I started working on this project, I knew nothing about the AZ-6. However, at this juncture, having studied a fair amount of information about the district and holding a few meetings with the team, I would say that I have enough of a degree of awareness of the district to have a degree of familiarity with its hot buttons and some of the players driving its power dynamics. The more I keep at it, the more I learn.

Combining discursive and Integrative thinking is a primary competence for the team organizer to possess and to develop. 

Here’s an example of what this means using Cochise County research as an illustration, we look for various kinds of information and then try to weave them together into a mix about the challenges faced by sound democracy advocates living in a polarized context:

  • County commissioners who did not certify election results 

  • a sheriff with notably extreme points of view

  • an immigration policy that is not working, 

  • the presence of major foreign money that demonstrates no visible concerns about local water management

  • ambitious development plans that display no ecological or climate concerns

  •  and powerful state level legislators, who use words like "socialist agenda," around freely

this sort of connecting the dots in this cauldron or stew of a county that the team organizer needs to display and celebrate. 

The team organizer has to be particularly alert to highlighting integrative thinking like this by team members, who will do so regularly. 

Many people may not realize that they are engaged in the research they do nor integrative thinking they display in many domains of their lives. They may not be used to the idea that they can turn their insights into creative action that moves the needle in elections, but the team organizer needs to know and to tell them that they can and they do.

Example 1:

An energetic and skilled team member asked, “Michael, how do we use all this analysis to identify specific people in these precincts that we’re targeting?!”

Good question!

Although she already had a good handle on using the Internet’s search function and Facebook to find Information, I may have helped her hone the terms of her search to discover more about the politics in the precincts of interest. We discovered that the area containing the precincts in Pinal County where there was low voter turnout is coded as "moderately conservative" by Best Neighborhoods and that, unsurprisingly,  women tended to be more liberal than men. We then started digging further into women’s organizations and activities in the area. 

In the 3-5 minutes we had available to do this particular piece of research, we didn’t quite get to identifying specific women that she might be in touch with, but we came mighty close. A few more steps and a little more time, and we’ll get the job done!

Example 2:

I pointed a team member, who is already a regular Facebook user, toward a range of Facebook groups that are focused on Cochise County. This member has a strong background in the social sciences and activism and used his facility with Facebook to immediately make connections to sound democracy advocates who will inform him and the team’s work. 

Example 3: 

A team member without any particular research background has an interest in economics and has started to find articles in the newspaper serving Cochise County regarding employment in the construction trades. She’s underscoring the importance of speaking with business leaders in that field. I’m encouraging her to call some people up and report on the conversations, especially anyone that she might find who has a sustainability focus. 

Example 4: 

A team member has identified several substack resources that take us all deeper into the life of the district, including information about border tensions.

All of these examples demonstrate independent initiative and understanding of how to find and act upon hot buttons. 

One of the team organizer’s key objectives must be to bring the team to the point where it can self-organize and self-regulate its activities. There's no guarantee that this will happen. The team needs to be adequately sized and possess a high enough level of commitment to achieve this degree of functionality.

Hot Button Action Team How To Manual Pt II

Repeating the Mission:

Hot Button Action Teams seek to increase the turnout of Sound Democracy voters in hotly contested Congressional districts. 

Sound Democracy’s criteria include: 

- support for the expansion of an informed electorate

- a commitment to civil debate and non-violence, and 

- the acceptance of formally certified election results

The Pima County Database

I searched the Pima County Voter Canvass as one of the steps in the process. That database accompanies this review as Appendix I

I looked at all of the precincts that voted in AZ-6. After studying and commenting on many/most of Pima County precincts, I decided to focus on those where less than 50% of the possible voters turned out. It was a fascinating exercise. *

My objective was to categorize districts into high performing and low performing, each with subcategories.

  • A high performing precinct was one in which 60% or more of registered voters cast ballots in the 2022 election. They are not color coded in the Google Sheets document. 

  • 55-59% turned out in a medium performing precinct, highlighted in yellow 

  • 50-54% turned out in a marginally performing precinct, highlighted in green.

  • 40-49% turned out in a poorly performing precinct, highlighted in light red

  • Less than 40% turned out in very poorly performing district, highlighted in red

I’ve made comments reflecting quick assessments of what the voting behavior in each precinct might mean for more focused HBAT activities. My emphasis in the comments is on whether more voters in a precinct would likely support Sound Democracy propositions and candidates.  

Overall, I was impressed by AZ-6’s turnout in Pima County. I did not create an average rigorously, but, eyeballing the numbers, it seems to me that something like 60+% turned out on average across the precincts in the district as a whole. Quite a few precincts recorded well over 70% turnout, and many of those were in what I’d called the Sound Democracy category, i.e., they rejected Prop 309, a voter suppression effort, vigorously. 

  • My rough estimate is that approximately 70,000 votes were “left on the table” across the 59 precincts I looked at in Pima County’s portion of AZ-6

  • Approximately 42,500 votes were left of the table in precincts where the turnout was less than 60% in the 129 precincts I was able to establish voting centers for

  • Approximately 24,000 votes were left on the table for all precincts where less than 55% of the eligible voters turned out

For the purposes of this discussion, the light reds and the reds are of particular interest. 

  • Approximately 19,000 eligible voters did not cast ballots in precincts where there was less than a 50% turnout

  • Precincts 54 and 114 alone left 3,150 votes on the table. Only 20% of the eligible voters turned up in Precinct 114.

I published a similar look at the Pinal County results in the HBAT Manual Part I. The AZ-6 HBAT team has also taken a less rigorous look at Cochise, Graham and Greenlee, all of which have precincts in which Sound Democracy voters turned out, even though the most vocal pro-democracy candidate was handily defeated.  

My recommendation to anyone looking at these statistics for any Hot Button District is to dig into the life, the culture and the people of the green, light red and red precincts. 

I’ve referred to the challenge of figuring out the geographic locations of Pima’s precincts. Therefore, the thinking that follows in the next two paragraphs is probably based on wrong assumptions about where the precincts are located. 

However, look at it as somewhat metaphorical. While the particulars of the neighborhoods may be inaccurate, the way of thinking about them may have some value. 

Assuming that the precinct locations in the Voter Canvass have some connection to the precinct name, here’s some of what I found about Tucson’s Precinct 114 where only 20% of the voters turned out, for example:

  • Cienega High School is its polling place. The high school seems like a very solid place with a heck of a football field. Its leadership team appears to be almost completely Caucasian. 1,900 kids attend. About 50% of them are proficient in literacy and numeracy.  A student was arrested for making terrorist threats there last year.

  • The neighborhoods around the high school seem chopped up. It is difficult to tell how many of the specific areas (e.g., Rancho del Largo, Rincon Hills) are served by the high school’s polling place. To the best of my ability to understand the data in this cursory analysis, the surrounding area seems to be relatively low income, but that’s just a guess. 

Let’s contrast this precinct with 112, whose polling place is the Valencia Branch Public Library. 74% of eligible voters turned out.

Unlike Cienega High School, the area surrounding the library seems to be relatively coherent geographically, with E. Valencia Rd and S. 12th Avenue as major thoroughfares. 

  • Barrio Nopal, which may be partially in the precinct,§ has a master plan and Congressman Raúl Grijalva is touting the $1.2 million he says he got earmarked to address the drainage that flows off of Tucson International Airport and into the neighborhoods across South Nogales Highway, called Barrio Nopal and Elvira. 2020 denialist and insurrectionist Rep. Paul Gosar is lamenting the allocation of earmarks like this, regardless of their purpose. 

Given my remoteness from the area under study and my lack of local knowledge, I’m not in the position at this moment to say much that’s useful about the distinctions between precincts 114 and 112 or the distinctiveness of the particular precincts themselves, but we all do know that individual neighborhoods have their own unique characters. HBATs job is to gain insight into:

  • The nature/subculture of those neighborhoods  

  • How a Congressional district's general Hot Buttons are manifesting and 

  • Who is championing them in particular precincts or 

  • If they are even relevant to a precinct

In my view, if the team has done its job of discussing a District’s overall dynamics to the point of having a big picture perspective, they’ll likely see linkages between local, District, State and even global themes. For example, many concerns can be tied back to climate anxieties, social and economic injustice, the rate of technological change, racial and ethnic divides, etc. 

AZ-6 examples, 

  • Exhausted Aquifers ⇔ Unplanned ⇔ Climate Realities Ignored

  • Border Tensions ⇔ Stuck Immigration Policy ⇔ Racial Anxieties

  • Lack of Initiative ⇔ Economic Problems ⇔ Limitations of the  Educational System

  • Overwhelmed Families ⇔ Crime and Societal Consequences ⇔ Family Planning not Legitimated

It is not that challenging to act locally and think globally. 

It is worth noting that public libraries, community centers and schools, and churches play a prominent role as polling places nationwide. Churches are not public institutions per se, because they aren’t funded with tax dollars, at least not directly. But the other three certainly are. 

Research by  Non Profit Vote demonstrates that libraries are particular repositories of local knowledge regarding and promoting Sound Democracy:

Libraries are able to support voter engagement in many different ways because they are strongly rooted in their communities and have a strong network of partnerships with government agencies, community organizations, business groups, and elected officials. In their professional roles, librarians are nonpartisan, and they embed the professional ethics of equitable access to high-quality, accurate information into their civic engagement work. Partner groups recognize that, while it is valuable and necessary to have many places to register voters, one that engages with that voter long before and long after an election has a powerful role in strengthening our democratic systems.

Of course, we should not be surprised that those who are attacking democracy are also assaulting the credibility of public libraries.

Joel D. Valdez Main Library in Pima County

There appear to be 27 public libraries in Tucson. Many of them will have intricate ties with the public (and private) schools in their extended neighborhoods. I don’t know how many of them are in AZ-6, but their reference librarians and other members of their staff are likely to be excellent sources of local knowledge and contacts. Further, the bulletin boards of libraries and community centers are frequently required by local and state statutes to allow postings of all sorts that conform to established community standards (e.g., non-partisanship), and could point us toward influencers.

While the specific votes that we cast as voters are secret, individual voting records and voter rolls are also public. They don’t tell researchers how people voted, but they usually do show party affiliation, if any, and frequency of voting. One objective of voter roll research is to find “super voters.” Supervoters show up for every election. Their party affiliation (or lack of it) may indicate a Sound Democracy allegiance. Find a 70 year old woman who’s voted in every election for the last 50 years and writes an occasional letter to the editor of a local paper, and you’ll have discovered someone who knows a lot and has a lot to say!

Further Team Leader Reflections (3/18/24)

Welcome diversity of thought and action. But, make sure proposals are made within the context of building local political engagement and that  results are produced that can be evaluated. Will they lead to conclusions and/or further experimentation?

For example, different team members will want to pursue dissimilar hot button issues. Although they might be related, a focus on water issues in AZ-6 is not obviously the same as a focus on the impact of religious nationalism. And, they are both hot buttons!

These teams are voluntary units composed of retired elders. Many people in this demographic don't want to do and don't have to do things that don’t attract them. Plus, there are many other organizations, e.g., political parties or larger specialized entities that are doing similar things to the HBATs, that they might join. 

To me, the rationality of this sort of granular analysis that leads to the identification of specific groups and people within precincts to work with is obvious and exciting. That is not necessarily going to be convincing enough to others to put in the time and focus necessary to get connected to local activists in a way that helps them turn people sympathetic to their concerns out to the polls. 

The HBAT team members need to be willing to get past whatever reservations they might have in reaching out to people they don’t know to make these connections. Some may not feel comfortable in doing so. The team organizer can use roleplaying and scripting to help them get past those kinds of interactional challenges. 

Physical distances can also be challenging to address. AZ-6 is about half the size of Rhode Island. Rhode Island may be the smallest state in the Union, but it may not feel that way when you’re driving around in it. It can easily take an hour plus drive one way from AZ-6’s urban center, Tucson, to get on the ground and meet people in other towns and locales. It’s a commitment.

AZ-6’s work is far from finished, and one might say that it has hardly begun. 

  • Monitoring of public resources was spotty

  • The team never grew to adequate size 

  • Roles weren’t adopted

  • Multiple actions that could have been taken weren’t 

  • We did not yet gain access to voter rolls, which would have enabled us to cross tab voter registration data with names identified through letters to the editor, social media postings, public information resources, academic research, etc. 

Irrespective of those limitations to the outcomes achieved, enough happened to provide a sense of how one might proceed using this framework. 

The framework is probably similar to that used by political parties, but its aim may be different: re-building America’s democracy is a long-term project and it may fail. Liz Cheney is just as committed to American democracy as Jamie Raskin. This is one man’s contribution to our democracy’s victory over the mob. 


2024 promises to be the most important election in American history since at least 1968 or maybe 1932 and probably since 1860. 

The future of democracy in our country and of the United States’ place in the world order is clearly at stake. Millions of people are polarized into vehement political tribes, and they are worried and scared about its outcome. Many are unhappy with the choices between the likely presidential candidates. While many people of good will want to address local and larger issues and problems, there is also an overriding tone of polarization present in many contexts, epitomized by the January 6th attempt to thwart the peaceful transfer of power and the cross currents of reaction to that event. 

While this is all true, it is also probably more important that many millions more seem to be completely or largely disengaged from the contest. As David French reports in the New York Times: 

Only a minority of Americans are truly active in political debates, and they’re exhausting and alienating the rest of the country…The rest of Americans — the other two-thirds — constitute an “exhausted majority.” They’re deeply discontented with American politics, and many are also largely disengaged.

The decision to unplug from the news is often quite rational and perhaps even prudent — compounding the problem. Disengagement is a reasonable response to the unreasonable vitriol that dominates our political conversations. Weighing in on politics online or even watching it passively is like voluntarily choosing to receive an electric shock.

Voter turnout in hotly contested Congressional districts will be key to whatever path forward is coming for America both in 2024 and in any other elections that will (hopefully) follow.  The Hot Button Action Team approach is an experiment in the use of a particular kind of research process to make connections between sound democracy advocates anywhere and citizens everywhere who are concerned about specific driving issues in their locales where small changes in voting behavior can make a big difference. 

Over 80% of eligible Swedish voters turn out for their elections. If Americans exercised their franchise at a similar level, our consciousness as a society would be vastly expanded., West Virginia, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Arkansas, and Alabama all had turnout at below 50% in the last two general elections.  All five rank at or near the bottom in household income in the US. imagine how different they would be, and the country as a whole would be, if they voted like the Swedes! I think America would experience a breakthrough in discussing and understanding the whole system because we’d all be owners. We’d all be influenced by each other to find and see the interconnectedness of the All. That’s what is supposed to happen in a democracy. We could blow each other's (and our own) minds …in a good way.   

The HBATs can be like the trim tabs of a large sailing vessel, the small control attached to a rudder that sets a change of direction in motion or maintains a steady course. HBATs have the potential to be one of the many seemingly minute steps that need to be taken across America to preserve and strengthen our democracy.

A trim tab on a rudder: small, but high leverage

For further information or to inquire about setting up an 

Elders for Sound Democracy Hot Button Action Team 

in your district 


Michael Sales at


First pass at analyzing with 

Particular Attention to Ones Where Fewer than

50% of the Eligible Voters Participated

This appendix presents a way to get to a detailed map of specific precincts in Pima County AZ. This could be useful to an on-the-ground team that wants to become familiar with a particular precinct by visiting library branches, coffee bars and cafes, juke joints, houses of worship, etc. 


 Ψ Both of these pollutants are products of denying the urgent need to address climate change as a present day crisis. In general, the population of the Earth is not paying adequate attention to climate change. 

* It’s also worth looking at the front matter of the canvass to see how carefully the votes are counted! A number of election officers certify that the results are accurate and are accountable under Arizona statutory law, which is probably similar to the laws throughout the US. 

 Proposition 309 would have required voters to write their birthdate, government issued identification number and signature on early ballots. It was defeated by a 0.8% margin among 2.42 million voters. 

 For reasons I don’t understand, several of the polling places I included in the spreadsheet seem to have vanished! Dunno why?! Polling places that have addresses but no names are churches that may or may not be community centers for the precinct identified. Punch in the addresses and you’ll get the name of the church. Certainly, there is a high likelihood that interviewing the clergy at these locations will provide insight into their perspective of the surrounding area and its voters. 

§ Although Appendix II gets close, the AZ-6 HBAT has not, as of yet, located an comprehensively detailed and easily accessible precinct maps for each of the counties in the District. I believe that these maps do exist for each precinct in the United States. 

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