Do Something

VOTE! And get out the vote

Today is the last day to request a mail-in ballot at an early voting center! If you haven’t yet requested or received yours, head to an early voting center where they can print one out for you on the spot.

Of course you can—taking all Covid-19 precautions—vote in person November 3rd. Find your polling place (which may have changed) here.

Now Get out the Vote!


Read More

about voting this fall


To this story in CitizenCast

Prefer the audio version of this story?

And go here for more audio articles by CitizenCast

Guest Commentary: Want to Boost Voter Turnout?

A legendary UArts professor of innovation says the advent of the secret ballot fueled voter apathy

Guest Commentary: Want to Boost Voter Turnout?

A legendary UArts professor of innovation says the advent of the secret ballot fueled voter apathy

Custom HaloThis is a story of unintended consequences.

In 1888, the secret ballot seemed like a good idea. By the 19th century, the voting process had become a rough business. It was a public affair—a mix of carnival, marketplace, celebration, social gathering and auction block where votes could be bought and sold.

The voter and the crowd

After slipping through the crowd, perhaps avoiding a thug or two, the voter arrived with a colored ballot, courtesy of a political party, deposited it in the ballot box for all to see, and then joined the cluster of voters and bystanders to drink, dance, watch and debate the virtues of one candidate over another.

The turnout was high—as high as 82 percent in 1878. Like any community event, it was a time to see and be seen, to feel that on one day, at least, “everyone” was a part of the political process.

But there was discontent among the political class. Progressives argued that people should be able to vote in private to shield them from bullies and bribes.

Conservatives worried that the “wrong sort of people”—the poor, the immigrant, the freed slave, the illiterate—were tipping the government in the direction of 19th-century liberalism.

It seemed time for a reform. And reform they did—literacy tests, poll taxes and the registration process itself. Each, a barrier. Still, the turnout remained high.

Do SomethingSo, in the late-1800s, a new idea emerged–the secret ballot, and that helped make voting a “civilized affair.” Private and orderly … and drab. But something was lost—the civic celebration, the public gathering. And, except for conventions and rallies, there was nothing to replace it. Lost—the community stage, civic thrill and social identity.

No wonder turnout dropped from 82 percent to 50 percent, where it has remained. The United States is now near the bottom of the list of democratic countries in terms of voter turnout, 26th out of 32.

This loss of “social identity” was important. It is what bonds us and is the source of our personal pride and identity. It is reflected in our rallies and protest marches. It is why we proudly say “We are Americans” or why we root for our hometown team and wear its jerseys.

When voting became secret, we lost a space to proclaim our civic identity and display our social duty.

A solution for the 21st century

We should not return to the 19th century voting marketplace. But if we wish to increase voter participation and civic engagement, we must rediscover ways to recreate a civic stage, to make the community of voters more visible.

Now being considered is a host of reforms, many with the laudable intent of getting more people to vote. But each of them—mail-in ballots, online voting, early voting, and automatic registration—will make the act of voting less visible and go further in dismantling the civic stage.

Getting on the civic stage

If we want to rebuild a public space that includes “the voter,” we might look to a few approaches.

  • We could make public the names of those who vote—not whom they voted for. It is time to give recognition to the voter. In a democracy, the voter is (or should be) the most important actor.
  • We could make voting a competition—not the competition for office but the competition among communities to see which has the highest percentage of voters: the “winning community to receive a cash prize in support of its schools, parks or some other civic priority. The community that works together for a common goal asserts its pride of collective strength.
  • We could make voting a team sport with members wearing team colors—in this case, a badge or a sweatshirt proclaiming “I am a voter” worn in the month prior to the election. There’s pleasure, excitement and passion when we see “our team” and the fans together.

It is time to rebuild the civic stage and then step onto it.

Neil Kleinman is professor (emeritus) of innovation and entrepreneurship at the University of the Arts, where he was director of the Corzo Center for the Creative Economy and dean of the College of Media and Communication. He is also a lawyer and co-founder of the BroadSide Collective LLC., a social impact group. For those interested, the Collective offers free downloadable tag lines to add to email addresses, a Zoom backdrop, and formats for Window/Car Cards or Posters here.

It’s election season in Philadelphia. Are you all set to vote?

Header photo: Voters line up outside a satellite election office at the High School For Creative & Performing Arts in South Philly | Photo by Josh Middleton

The Philadelphia Citizen will only publish thoughtful, civil comments. If your post is offensive, not only will we not publish it, we'll laugh at you while hitting delete.

Be a Citizen Editor

Suggest a Story

Advertising Terms

We do not accept political ads, issue advocacy ads, ads containing expletives, ads featuring photos of children without documented right of use, ads paid for by PACs, and other content deemed to be partisan or misaligned with our mission. The Philadelphia Citizen is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, nonpartisan organization and all affiliate content will be nonpartisan in nature. Advertisements are approved fully at The Citizen's discretion. Advertisements and sponsorships have different tax-deductible eligibility. For questions or clarification on these conditions, please contact Director of Sales & Philanthropy Kristin Long at [email protected] or call (609)-602-0145.