Philadelphians live in the birthplace of democracy, but the current state of it has been compromised.
This past mayoral election saw less than 25 percent of the general public vote. And disappointing numbers like this have been common over the previous cycles.
We have an emerging population with immense developmental growth, and yet voter participation has been on a decline in the fifth largest city in America. As someone who has voted in every election since living in Philly, something about this problem never settled well with me.
I never understood the cause until I recently read that City Commissioners Chairman Anthony Clark didn’t vote in this month’s special elections for vacant state representative seats. He’s a Democrat that works with ward leaders in the city on improving voter turn-out.
When I actually looked at the current ward leaders in our city, I dropped my laptop.
Philly, the people you aren’t really voting for are also the people invested in making sure you continue to not vote for them.
Go to phillywardleaders.com and you’ll see a list of the ward leaders in our districts that are responsible for helping to improve the voter participation rate in our neighborhoods.
Many of them are current city council elected officials such as Bill Greenlee, Jannie Blackwell and Bobby Henon. There are also notable names such as John Dougherty, Anthony Williams, Bob Brady, Marian Tasco … and oh yeah, our mayor, Michael Nutter.
Why are they responsible for bringing out the vote? What kind of sense does that make?! Who would actually trust the system known as local government anymore now than knowing that the very people responsible for legislating our livelihood is also regulating our participation in it?
The cynic in me believes that much of the below-30 percent voter turn-out rates comes from their ability to keep these elections as predictable as possible.
We all knew Williams was going to lose after we saw many of the ward leaders endorse Kenney at the last minute. With no vested interest in increasing the percentages of those who vote, they definitely controlled the results of that election.
The current ward leader system condones a party machine that has dominated this city for decades. Until the general public or elected officials with a moral conscience demand a change in policy, it will destabilize the democracy of this city.
First off, current elected officials shouldn’t be ward leaders during their elections. Common sense suggests that easily puts their opponents at an unfair advantage and can sway their ability to actually boost the voter turn-out that might challenge their chances of re-election.
Second, more young civic leaders should be encouraged to run as ward leaders. The position isn’t that demanding if our own mayor can run the city and be one at the same time. I will take the job for my district if it’s that damn hard to find one.
Because currently the popularity contest known as local elections are not playing fair in most considerable terms.
The views expressed in this column are those of the columnist and do not necessarily reflect the views of Metro US.