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Democracy is hard. Voting is easy

In May, during Philadelphia’s primary election for such offices as District Attorney and City Controller, we held our second Citizen Voter Lottery, promising one lucky voter $5,000 just for showing up. The winner was Amber Kipp, a Harrowgate mom of seven who always votes because, “It’s important for my kids, for the future.”

As with the first time we did the lottery, in November 2015, we discovered that offering a cash prize encourages Philadelphians to vote. That time, among the 30 percent of the electorate who knew about our lottery, turnout was up five percent. This past May, the results were similar: Of the 16 percent of voters who knew about the lottery, there was a 4.2 percent increase in turnout. If everyone in the city had known about it, that would amount to 42,000 more votes—a pretty significant number when you consider that only about 155,000 people cast ballots.

For the general election next week, we decided not to do another lottery. Quite frankly, we don’t want to; there are so many better ways to reform our electoral system than paying voters to vote. And we shouldn’t need to. Turnout as a whole—a whopping 18 percent—was up by five percentage points, compared to the 2013 DA primary race. Philadelphians are fired up, as we can see from the protests, the attendance at trainings on running for office, the number of people who have registered to be their neighborhood’s next committee person.

Of course, all of that matters. But you know what also matters, in the immediate term? Voting. Just in case you still need some incentive, here are some reasons you should show up for democracy on Tuesday:

  • Because as the primary day victory of City Controller challenger Rebecca Rhynhart showed, we can buck the ingrained machine system of electoral politics in this town by choosing on our own, regardless of well-funded ward leaders and committee people. Want to change the same-old way of doing backroom politics? Participate in frontroom politics, i.e. voting, and you deplete the power of the machine.
  •  Because in Philadelphia, there is—as always—a lot at stake. The District Attorney is the highest-ranking criminal justice official in the city. The City Controller makes sure your money is being well-spent. Supreme Court Justices keep legislators in check, in ways that can affect every single Philadelphian. Want just one example? The Court is now considering a case that could upend the way schools are funded statewide.
  • Because we’ve seen the thousands of people out there protesting, shouting, holding signs, blocking traffic, making noise, being angry and upset. We see the online petitions and Facebook calls to action. That is cathartic, and it feels important, and maybe it sends a message, if anyone’s listening. You can be anti-establishment, anti-politician, anti-swamp, anti-government, anti-everything. But all that means nothing without your participation at the polls. Do your best to dismantle the systems that hold us back. But do your part to make sure the right people are leading us, as well.

You can be anti-establishment, anti-politician, anti-swamp, anti-government, anti-everything. But all that means nothing without your participation at the polls.

  • Because, as we’ve said before, just showing up to vote sends a signal to the powers that be that you—and your demographic—should not be ignored. I’m looking at you, young black men and Millennials of any hue. Politics and politicians seem out of touch? That’s because they see no reason to care about you, since you see no reason to vote—for or against them. They listen to the people who show up, with checks to be sure, but also with the power given to every citizen: Their vote.
  • Because, as Van Jones said recently: “America is hard to do. You’ve got to remember that Democracy is hard. It’s hard work, and you can’t take any of these elections off.”
  • Because voting is a habit. The earlier you do it, the more likely you are to keep doing it. Now is as good a time to start (or continue) as any. And take your children; they learn by example, you know.
  • Because the Trump Administration is working on a way to purge citizens from the voter rolls if they haven’t voted in several elections, something Ohio has already tried to do in a case now headed to the Supreme Court. In our current political situation, you may need to use or lose it.
  • Because if you’re dismayed by our current President, then you should know that Pennsylvania let down the country by not showing up in the numbers needed for a Clinton victory. She lost the state by just 46,000 votes, at a time when turnout in Philly—at just 64 percent—was lower than in both 2008 and 2012. Think about this: Philadelphia has the power to sway the state, if we use it.

Politics and politicians seem out of touch? That’s because they see no reason to care about you, since you see no reason to vote—for or against them. They listen to the people who show up.

  • Because if you’re happy about our current President, then it’s no time to slack off. See above for how Philadelphia can swing the swing state, with its 7 to 1 Democratic advantage. And see above for how that didn’t happen for the Democrats in November.
  • Because, as Pres. Barack Obama said last year, “There’s no such thing as a vote that doesn’t matter.”
  • Because without dramatic political change, it is not going to get easier to vote than it is now. All of the ideas around election reform require legislators on a national or state level to significantly change the system that keeps them in office. Pres. Trump’s Voter Fraud Commission is considered by many people to be an attempt to keep voters with Democratic leanings—particularly minorities—out of the polling booth. And even if it doesn’t, there is still the fact that unless we change who makes the laws, the laws are not likely to change.
  • Because employers are increasingly allowing their workers to take time off for voting, so you can fit it into your day. If you run a company, or a department, do the same.
  • Because as Gladys Pyle, one of our patron saints who in 1938 was the first woman elected to the United States Senate, once said: “The Greek word for idiot, literally translated, means one who does not participate in politics.”
  • Because America.
Header photo: https://www.flickr.com/photos/kodakviews/7157055718

The Philadelphia Citizen will only publish thoughtful, civil posts. We want to be a communal space. But that doesn’t mean you have a First Amendment right to be an idiot. Send us an insulting, offensive and/or wildly off-topic comment and not only will we refrain from posting it -- we will laugh at you before we hit delete.

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