As Mayoral Election Looms, Participation Remains Bleak

Photo credit to Flickr User Erik (HASH) Hersman
A sign marking out a polling place in English and Spanish.  Photo credit to Flickr user Erik (HASH) Hersman

It’s no secret that the voter turnout rate in the US is abysmal. Even in the 2012 Presidential election, arguably the most important election for Americans, only 55% of registered voters came out to the ballot boxes. If that seems bad, it’s even worse for local elections.

There are nearly 1000 polling places that spring up around the city of Philadelphia, and online registration and guides make it easier than ever to make citizens’ voices be heard. Despite this, the primary for Philadelphia’s mayoral elections had a turnout of just about 27%.  With the election itself rapidly approaching, it’s probably not too likely that trend is going to change, despite the efforts of politicians and policymakers to get citizens out and voting.

According to Philly.com, the largest voting group by far is the millennials (18-34 range), which also has the lowest turnout rate at just 12%. Unsurprisingly, the worst culprits here were college areas. The Kensington voting block, which houses Temple University, had a millennial turnout of 4%, and there’s a matching rate for University City, which houses The University of Pennsylvania and Drexel University.

Part of this may be due to confusion about the process. “I’m registered to vote in Ohio, so I’m really not sure if I can even vote here,” said local student Brigitte Kolibab. “I don’t know how it all works.”

Many potential voters find themselves in a similar position to Brianna Hughes, a millennial who feels out of the loop. “I know it’s terrible, but I’m not going to vote,” she said. “I just don’t know anything about the issues or the candidates.”

In response to this, many have been looking for interesting and creative solutions to increase voter turnout. An artistic approach has been launched with the program “Next Stop: Democracy”, which has hired 60 Philadelphia-based artists to create signs to make polling places more obvious. “The signage required by the city is nothing more than a few pieces of paper taped up on the wall outside the door”, the organization’s website proclaims. The group will be creating and placing large “Vote Here” signs in both English and Spanish to help make it easier for Philadelphians to know when and where to vote.

Probably the most drastic and surprising measure is an interesting new lottery system. One lucky voter will be earning $10,000 for participating in the election. Larry Platt, the former editor of Philadelphia Magazine and the Daily News, announced this bold move at Love Park. It’s a strategy meant to counter what Platt called a “crisis of civic participation”, according to Philly.com. The Philadelphia Citizen, a non-profit news organization, will be awarding the prize to a randomly selected voter.

The idea has been met with some polarizing feedback, including calling it “gimmicky” or “downright illegal”, though many are simply waiting to see if it’s an effective measure to bring voters.

“I think it’s a great idea to try and get people out to vote,” said local millennial non-voter Laura Messman. “It’s probably not going to work, but it’s a good idea.”

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