When I read about the low voter turnout in Philadelphia’s May primary, I was disappointed but not surprised. In the weeks leading up to the primary election there were numerous debates, candidate meet-and-greets, and of course tons of commercials. Yet, as I posted on social media about the election it was the same few friends that responded and who, like me, were interested.
Bringing it up in conversation was sure to bring eye rolls and little excitement. When I showed up at the polls, there was no line. However, before the presidential election, people were excited, urging people to vote, discussing the candidates and forming lines at the polls. This was not something I was imagining and this is not a new trend. Philadelphians vote in presidential contests but not in local or state elections.
The May 19 primary election will in all likelihood determine the next mayor (due to the city’s overwhelmingly Democratic majority) as well as several at-large seats in City Council, not to mention judges. However, it was not even on the radar for most voters.
I am sure many people are asking, “But why vote in local elections?” They would much rather be part of a big presidential election that they think means something than local politics. “Local elections aren’t important. Democrats run the city anyway, and it is all the same.”
However, this is far from the truth! The president will affect overall big policy changes, such as defense, and he appoints federal judges, which ultimately determines the reading of the Constitution. However, the president has little effect on your day-to-day life.
In reality, your vote for city council and mayor will probably affect your life more. Schools, pensions, property taxes, parks, libraries, potholes, and trash collection are all local politics! There is a pension crisis around the corner that the mayor will have to deal with and hopefully fix. Will the next mayor (presumably Jim Kenney) be able to deal with this crisis, while negotiating with the many unions who put him into office?
Can we finally elect a City Council that will get rid of the disastrous and costly DROP (Deferred Retirement Option Plan) program completely?
How can we finally ensure funding of the schools when the state decides not to do so? (Even with Wolf in office, the Republican-controlled legislature is hardly going to make funding Philadelphia schools a priority.)
If you don’t know about these issues, look them up. I am sure they will continue to determine how things are run in the city for many years to come and have some impact on your life.
You want your vote to mean something, which is even more of a reason, you should be voting in local elections. With the small number of people voting, a small number of people can actually make a difference. Ask Helen Gym, who may have won because public education advocates stood behind her and actually went to vote — or Anthony Hardy Williams, who, though there are numerous charter school parents, did not get enough of them to go out and vote for him.
If you can convince like-minded people to go out and vote in local elections, you may actually make a difference. Therefore, I am glad that enough concerned citizens were able to cause a few upsets in the City Counsel at large race. However, it is not enough!
As Philadelphians, we make demands and complaints when the city is not serving our needs, from snow removal to taxes. Therefore, we should take the time to vote in local elections to keep our elected officials accountable and help determine what happens in City Hall. All it takes is a little bit of research to find out about the candidates and make a difference. I will continue to push for more people to get out and vote in local elections like it’s a presidential election, and I will continue to probably still be disappointed at the turnout. Being part of a democracy is not just about the one big election every four years but, more importantly, the local and state elections that will impact the nitty-gritty aspects of your daily life.
Julia Shmilovich is a lifelong Philadelphia resident and graduate of Central High School and Temple University. She currently resides in Rhawnhurst with her husband and son and is an office manager in Center City. She will be attending Drexel University Kline School of Law starting in the fall semester.