Bridget Conroy-Varnis hardly ever misses the chance to vote. In fact, voting is practically part of her DNA: Her father was a South Philly committeeman, and her childhood home even served as a polling place for a few elections. So it was no big surprise to find Conroy-Varnis, a school crossing guard at 10th and Bigler, emerging from her polling place at 4th and Shunk yesterday evening, after casting her ballot in the Mayoral election.
The surprise for Conroy-Varnis came as she was leaving the Murphy Recreation Center: She won $10,000 from The Citizen’s 2015 Philadelphia Municipal Election Voting Lottery.
“I can’t believe this” Conroy-Varnis said. “This is crazy!”
The Citizen randomly chose Conroy-Varnis’s polling place—number 919—from the 1,686 locations in the city, as well as a random time: 6:36 PM. Varnis was the first voter to emerge from her polling place at the rec center after 6:36.
With a phalanx of news cameras shining a light on her as she stepped out the door, Citizen Editor Larry Platt thanked Conroy-Varnis for voting, and presented her with an oversized check for $10,000. She’ll receive an actual check, provided by the Pamela and Ajay Raju Foundation, within a few weeks, after the vote is certified.
Conroy-Varnis said she had heard about the lottery, and though she was thrilled to win the prize, was sad that it was necessary. “Every election I try to get out,” she said. “That’s how I was brought up. Every vote counts, so do your civic duty.”
A pre-election survey by the Emerson College Polling Society found that 30 percent of Philadelphia voters knew about The Citizen’s lottery, which was first announced in a press conference 12 days ago featuring former rivals Mayor John Street and Sam Katz. A post-election followup survey will determine if the gambit worked to bring more voters to the polls here as it did in a similar lottery in Los Angeles, where turnout in a small school district among those who knew of the prize rose from 46 percent to 80 percent.
After her initial shock, Conroy-Varnis took her prize in stride, quickly forming a plan for how she’ll spend her civically-earned money.
“I would like to donate a little bit,” she said. “And pay off some bills, and maybe buy a used car.”