Based on archival sources and interviews, this article relates the untold story behind several township elections. It shows that these experiments were largely the result of a discursive opening on expanding grassroots democracy, and efforts by local leaders to promote their careers by taking the lead in initiating electoral reforms. It suggests that over two decades of post-Mao reform may have encouraged a belief among some local officials that history is on the reformers' side. It also suggests that the current cadre management system may enable mid-level leaders to introduce political reforms at a lower level without seeking prior approval from their superiors. The article argues that succession politics may re-open the door for further electoral reform and that the international community can offer protection to local initiatives by pressing the Chinese government to improve its human rights record.