Last November, you’ll recall, thanks to the generosity of the Pamela and Ajay Raju Foundation, The Citizen awarded $10,000 to a random voter on election day. That voter was Bridget Conroy-Varnis, a South Philly crossing guard. When she emerged from the voting booth to find herself surrounded by TV cameras and informed of her windfall, she unwittingly exemplified what makes Democracy actually kind of cool by saying that, in addition to spending some of the money on a used car, she’d be donating some to charity.
Around The Citizen offices, Bridget’s instinct in that moment to think about herself as part of a larger collective when most of us would have broken into a rhythmless victory dance gave birth to a popular refrain: Let’s be as good as Bridget.
Seriously, how great would Philly be if we were a city of Bridgets? “Every election, I try to get out,” she told the TV cameras. “That’s how I was brought up. Every vote counts, so do your civic duty.”
Our voter lottery last November increased turnout by 5 percent among those who knew about the experiment. Fast Company named it one of 10 “World Changing Ideas.” Join us to consider some others.
Unfortunately, Bridget’s sense of communitarian obligation has become little more than a quaint notion from our distant past. We just had a special election in which 7 percent of eligible voters turned out. In the mayoral election, the number was 25 percent. Which is why we tried to incentivize turnout.
We held a press conference with former rivals Mayor John Street and Sam Katz 12 days before election day to get the word out. The Emerson College Polling Society, in conjunction with Statisticians Without Borders, a pro-bono polling group, conducted a pre-election survey which found that 30 percent of the electorate had heard of the lottery.
After the vote, another survey was conducted, which found that, of those who had heard of the experiment, turnout was 5 percent higher—a significant statistical bump. Had every voter known about the lottery and the same percentage held true, nearly 50,000 votes would have been added to the rolls. 50,000 votes in Philadelphia can sway elections. Fast Company recently called our voter lottery one of the 10 “World Changing Ideas of 2016.”
But we don’t think paying people to vote is necessarily the answer to our woeful participation rate. In fact, we suspect there are many answers. And we think it’s high time we start considering all of them, because we doubt real solutions will come from those invested in perpetuating the status quo.
This is where you come in. Join us next Tuesday night to hear about other ideas to defibrillate Democracy and to add your voice to the conversation.
I’ll talk about our experiment, but we’re really excited to share some other ideas, too. You’ll hear from Lansie Sylvia of the branding agency Here’s My Chance, who created Next Stop: Democracy!, which worked with local artists to create cool signage directing voters to 60 polling locations throughout the city. She’ll be joined by a representative from FairVote, which advocates for Ranked Choice Voting—which, if it existed nationwide currently, would likely protect us from the rise of Donald Trump. And Sam Novey of the Foundation for Civic Leadership will be on hand to talk about The National College Vote Challenge, a prize competition that equips higher-ed institutions to increase on-campus voting and enhance civic engagement.
Of course, there are other ideas to consider, as well, like mandatory voting and immediate, on-site voter registration. Come prepared to talk about them all, and to vote for the most game-changing among them. Because this Democracy thing? It’s kinda up to us.
Here are the details:
WHAT: Defibrillating Democracy
WHERE: Industrious, 230 S. Broad Street, (Enter on Locust), 17th Floor
WHEN: Tuesday, March 29, 6 pm to 8 pm
Essentials to Democracy such as beer, pretzels and popcorn will be on hand.
Admission is free. RSVP here.