City Commissioner Stephanie Singer takes her voter outreach efforts to Roxborough’s Shoprite

Attempting to address low voter turnout, a city official tasked with overseeing elections kicked off a new campaign last week in Roxborough.

Known as “Operation Be the Boss: Vote May 21st, 2013,” City Commissioner Stephanie Singer is teaming with civic leaders and local businesses to advocate for twice a year voting among eligible voters, which amounts to approximately 1 million people in Philadelphia.

According to Singer’s office, Philadelphia has its highest election during the quadrennial Presidential election, averaging over 50-percent. In off-years and primary elections, the amount of votes cast dips as low as 10 to 25-percent.

“When you vote, you choose who will work for you,” said Singer. “Voting makes you the boss.”

Setting a high bar 

A key point of Singer’s argument was the direct and immediate influence that local elected leaders have. And, given the city’s voting habits, many elections are in fact decided in the Democratic primaries.

For Singer, this year is key, given the number of vacant judicial positions. Noting that judges not only settle disputes that guide legal policy through their decisions, she also observed that voter turnout for their primaries tend to be minimal.

“When it comes to these local officials, we don’t do ok,” she said. “Most of us don’t show up to vote.”

To combat this, Singer said she has set ambitious goals set for voter turnout, which she described as increase turnout in every election by 200,000 votes.

Beyond the philosophical, there are strategic benefits for the city caused by increased turnout: she said that “real changes” in statewide elections begin with 100,000 Philadelphia voters.

When that number approaches 200,000,”You really see that statewide candidates that Philadelphia favored begin to win statewide,” she added.

Locally, the stiff competition for limited municipal resources should inspire voters.

“You don’t know what issues are going to come up in the next four years,” she said, “but when it comes up, your neighborhood is stronger if you have more voter turnout.”

Sharing the same objective

Political accolades for Singer were also felt on Thursday. Although not in attendance due to other commitments, Fourth District Councilman Curtis Jones, Jr. sent his blessings through a staffer.

“He really recognizes the importance of voting in all years and every year,” said Jones’ spokesperson Ajeenah Amir, “and we recognize it’s important to be the boss this year.”

Asked for response to Singer’s efforts, Al Schmidt, Republican vice-chair of the city commissioner’s office, said that he was not fully aware of his colleague’s campaign and was therefore unable to comment directly.

However, he said that each of the three commissioners engage in various voter outreach efforts – Schmidt related that he was focusing his efforts on civic associations and schools.

Though differing means may be employed, Schmidt indicated that desired ends are the same.

“All three commissioners share the same objective: to get everyone of an eligible age registered and out to vote,” he said.

Drawing attention to the cause

According to some present at Thursday’s launch, a sense of apathy has overtaken voters, an observation perhaps reinforced by an absence of interested Shoprite customers at Thursday’s press conference.

To address this, Singer is attempting to curb electoral indifference by utilizing the leadership of both faith and community-based organizations, along with block captains and other neighborhood senechals to drive turnout at the ground level.

In addition, her partnership with Shoprite and Clear Channel’s Outdoor Philadelphia Division will attempt to bring her campaign’s message to voters.

To advertise her non-partisan message, Singer and staffers will be appearing at various Shoprites throughout the city in coming weeks to draw attention to their cause.

“Apathy is what happens when people believe they have no power,” she said. “We live in in a democracy, and in a democracy, people have power –that’s the whole point.”

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal