I’ve finally begun to understand why Philadelphians could care less about voting except in national elections. It’s not that they’re not registered or too lazy to get to the polls – it’s just that the current local political system makes democracy appear meaningless.
My boyfriend currently runs voter registration engagement and outreach for a political campaign he’s working on around West Philly. Sometimes I go to community events with him and see his co-workers make the case for why folks should register to vote. More often than not, a great number of them are already signed up, but haven’t moved the needle by actually voting.
The voter turnout in this city is tragic. The majority of the city is registered to vote, but roughly a third of Philadelphians vote during local elections on average. Of course the number goes up significantly during national election years – as I presume it will this year – but after that, things go back to being sour.
Part of the reason why no cares about a local Philadelphia race is because the city is currently dominated by a Democratic political machine that normally declares the winner the moment they back a candidate.
“These Democrats in Philly ain’t any better than the Republicans they try to bash all the time,” said Charlene, 54, a long-time West Philly resident. “If I could, I would vote for an independent or someone not connected to these big-shots.”
Last year’s major City Hall election saw independent candidate Andrew Stober run for an open City Council-at-large seat. Based on his growing visibility during the race and grassroots campaign effort, you would’ve thought he had a chance. Nope. Once again, Philadelphia remained Democratic, with many of the party backed candidates staying put in office.
Beyond single-party domination, even when votes are cast the outcome can be manipulated. The April vote on amending the state Constitution to change the mandatory retirement age for judges from 70 to 75 has now been declared null and void by the Republican-ruled state Legislature, which decided that the proposals wording confused voters.
Excuse me, but I knew what I voted for – and the majority agreed that we didn’t want to extend the age for lawyers to sit on the bench.
But this is what happens when votes don’t go the way those in power want them to. State Republicans wanted the age extension to keep Supreme Court Chief Justice Thomas Saylor, who turns 70 at year’s end, as one of the two conservatives on the seven-member court.
After losing the election, Republicans now want a do-over in November. Republicans and their re-votes, it never gets old.
Times like these can be discouraging for voters but I encourage everyone to not relinquish their vote. Instead, call for more transparency that combats potentially suppressive methods. Don’t boo, vote – and hold the pols more accountable.