Why should I vote? What’s in it for me?
These are the questions Hassan Abdellah believes need to be answered in order to convince people to vote. “Self interest is what rules the world,” Abdellah said Tuesday evening, outside his polling place at African Episcopal Church of St. Thomas in Overbrook Farms. “If people understand they’ll get something out of voting besides just putting someone in office then they’ll come out and vote.”
Of course, Abdellah wasn’t quite expecting what he got out of this primary day just for casting a ballot: $1,000, as the first of three winners in the Citizen’s 2021 Municipal Election Voter Lottery. (Two more will be selected in a few weeks after the voter rolls are confirmed, to also include people who voted by mail.)
Abdellah, a real estate broker with offices in New York City and Delaware County, was the first person to leave the randomly selected polling place, St. Thomas, at a randomly selected time, 5:30pm. When he emerged he found Citizen co-founder Larry Platt, Managing Director Tia Mathisen (and me) with an oversized check and a bunch of balloons.
“Are you serious?” Abdellah asked, clearly stunned. “Is this a joke? Do I have to do anything?”
Platt assured him he was, in fact, serious, and that Abdellah had already done all he needed to do: his civic duty.
At that, Abdellah pulled down his mask, posed for a photo—to prove to his grown children that it had happened—and shared his own words of wisdom about getting out the vote.
“Why should I vote? What’s in it for me?” is the name of a program run out of Abdellah’s West Philly mosque, which brings politicians to meet community members to explain what they do, and how their work affects residents.
Once citizens understand the consequences of their vote, and what elected officials can do for them, Abdellah said, then they know why it’s important to cast a ballot. “We think that will make a difference in who votes,” he said.
Unfortunately, not enough people seem to understand the importance of voting in every election, especially those critical local races that affect our everyday lives. That’s why, for the third time since 2015, The Citizen last month launched a voter lottery to provide another incentive for voting, by mail or in person on Tuesday. (Yes, it’s legal to do this in non-federal races.)
In 2015 and 2017, researchers from Statistics Without Borders found that among those who knew of the lotteries, turnout increased by about 5 percent. For context, if all eligible voters in Philly had known about the lottery, that could have translated to an additional 50,000 votes—more than Donald Trump needed to defeat Hillary Clinton in 2016. Yes, voting matters.
In the 2015 general election, we gave $10,000 to South Philly crossing guard Bridget Conroy-Varnis. In the 2017 primary, we awarded $5,000 to North Philly resident Amber Kipp, who told us she votes for her children. This year, we’re giving out $1,000 each to three voters.
Abdellah is right, though. Educating potential voters, introducing them to candidates, ensuring they understand how their vote translates to their own lives, that the information they receive is factual, that they understand the consequences of staying home—these are critical to our democracy. And more than just applauding Abdellah for voting, we applaud him for doing his part to ensure other people vote as well.
Here’s hoping we don’t need to offer incentives like a lottery in future elections to ensure high turnout. Until then, congratulate Abdellah—and stay tuned to hear about our other two winners in the coming weeks.