What experience and/or personal background qualifies you to hold this office? If elected, what would be your top three policy goals for this office?
I am currently the Chairwoman of the City Commissioners of Philadelphia, a position I have held since 2017. I have been a City commissioner in January 2016. Prior to that I was a committeeperson for 31 years in 56 Ward _1st Division. I also served as the city’s first Community Outreach Director in the City Controller’s office for 6 years and Outreach Director in City Council for 3 years
I want to be able to use my knowledge of the office to ensure a smooth election in 2020 which will undoubtedly be the most important of our lifetime. I also will work to expand our efforts to register young voters both in high school and college. I look forward to launching our student poll worker initiative and on line campaign finance platform. Finally, I want work with our elected leaders in Harrisburg, from Governor Wolf to legislative leaders to members of the Philadelphia delegation, to modernize our outdated election laws. Most importantly early voting and same day registration,
Philadelphia is the only municipality in the country with three elected officials who do nothing but oversee elections. Additionally, City Commissioners seeking re-election do not perform most of their duties one year out of every four. If you were to design an optimal election apparatus from scratch, what would it look like and why?
Yes, I believe it is vital for the voting process to be independent of all other elected officials. An appointed commission would have to be appointed by elected officials and I believe voters should have a direct say. On solution is to stager the elections of the commissioners so all three aren’t up at one time.
Given that young people are the largest subset of the electorate with the lowest turnout, what is your plan for engaging the next generation of Philadelphia voters? What programs would you pursue to facilitate increased electoral participation and remove any barriers for under-voting groups?
Having the office set up booths at all local colleges during their orientation to register new voters, as well as working with school’s student governments to get students involved with the process on both sides. For traditionally under registered groups, I think it is vital to meet them were they are, I will continue to go into their communities and meet with the leaders that they trust to ensure they are comfortable with the process that has traditionally left them behind. I have worked with the NAACP and other elected officials filming PSA’s encouraging voter engagement.
Also, going to high schools to teach students how to register is vital, as well has implementing new marketing tools like twitter to reach students where the live online. I also work with elementary schools bringing machines out – creating ballots that kids can vote on like Disney characters and fast food places. We have also held student council elections using the names of the students on the machines.
What role, if any, do you believe City Commissioners play in educating the public about voting issues and the electoral process?
I will continue to attend community meeting to educate in person as well as expanding upon the online presence we have started during my tenure as Commissioner. I also started a program to educate inmates on their voting rights, creating PSA’s and visiting in person to both register voters who are in prison and to help them apple for absentee ballots.
What do you believe are the most serious issues plaguing Philadelphia polling places on Election Day and what plan would you propose to resolve these issues?
I believe that getting as many poll workers trained as possible is the best way to ensure a smooth election day. While we are unable to require Poll Workers to come to trainings by law, however through the years there has been a a program to pay workers $30 for coming to training to incentivize them to be trained.
Do you believe that any updates or improvements to Philadelphia electoral rules, such as early or mail-in voting, could facilitate greater electoral participation? If so, what changes would you like to see and what would you do to implement such changes?
Voting is a right and the current system makes in next to impossible for a lot of people. Hourly workers often cannot afford to take the time off and disfranchising citizens is utterly un-American. I think there are many states with wonderful early voting systems, we should do an analyses of these systems to find which is most effective then partner with legislators in Harrisburg to fight for this right. I have already started working with State Representative Jared Solomon on changes to PA Election Code.
Same day registration is needed to ensure the fairest possible process. The new electronic poll book system will revolutionize voting in Philadelphia. It will also allow for same day registration, we will be able to have same day voter registration as soon as it passes in Harrisburg.
Critical to a functional and efficient Election Day experience is the presence of trained and well-informed poll workers. What would you do to improve the pipeline of qualified workers for Philadelphia polling places? What, if any, changes would you make to the current training program or other aspects of the job (e.g., half-day shifts) for poll workers?
State law does not allow for us to make training mandatory for poll workers. We have been able to incentivize the training sessions by increasing the stipend for training to $30. With the new technology, our poll workers will have the opportunity to train two times before the November election. I also worked to give poll workers their first pay increase in decades and the new electronic poll books will allow workers to be paid much more quickly. I feel these changes will help to make the long hours that the work entails more appealing, especially in lower income communities
Do you think the pros and cons of advocating for the purchase of new voting machines has been discussed and debated adequately with the public? If not, how would you have approached public education and debate on this issue differently?
Regarding the speed of the process, if Philadelphia’s current voting system were to be decertified, there would not be enough time for us to procure and implement a certified system for use in the Presidential Election. My official staff estimates that to be ready for the November 2019 General Election, a selection of a new system would need to be made by February 2019. To be ready for the April 2020 Presidential Primary, a selection of a new system would need to be made by July 2019.
If the goal is to implement the new system for the 2019 General and there is an unexpected delay, we will implement in the 2020 Primary, but if the goal is the 2020 Primary and there is an unexpected delay, we risk decertification and legal fights in both State and Federal Court. I know many people upset at the process, and so am I. I had wanted to have the vendors come in and do demos all over the city, so voters could touch and test the different options. But that is just not possible under the timeline the Governor put us under. Like you, I also was also a supporter of Best Value, but after going through it, I can tell you that it is not any more transparent than other procurement methods. Time after time, I tried to make the process more transparent, to present to the public who we received responses from and what systems were under consideration, and how many systems were being recommended by the Selection Committee. Each time I was prevented by the standard procurement rules, rules which we are respecting. I am willing to work with you, the Mayor, and anyone on Council to reform this process. Furthermore, standard procurement procedures required myself, my fellow Commissioners, and our staff to sign Confidentiality and Conflict of Interest Statements that requires express authorization from the Law Department before making disclosures of confidential information. I have put in a request with the Law Department for authorization to publicly release the Selection Committee’s recommendation and rationale, as you have requested, as well as the recommendation from the Procurement Commissioner.
While I know the process was not perfect, I believe we did the best we with the hand we were dealt, between the tight time line from the Governor and having to follow the city’s procurement process. We reached out to local leaders from every part of the city offering to come to their neighborhoods to explain the process and hear concerns, we also held public comment sessions on a night and a weekend to make them more accessible for the public. Ideally we would have more time to hear from every Philadelphian but it takes months to secure contracts and we wanted as much time as possible to train poll workers and the public on the new voting process. When we last got new machines in 2001, the training component lasted over a year. This current time line has us at roughly 5 months; any less than that and we are putting out elections at risk.
What, if any, system do you think should be implemented to improve registered voter check-in systems on Election Day? What would your plan be to implement an improved system and on what timeline? Finally, if your plan involves the purchase of an electronic system, how do you believe that the security of the voter registration list can be maintained?
An electronic system is the only means of implementing a same day system, which I believe is vital to a fully fair election process. The new electronic poll book system will revolutionize voting in Philadelphia. In addition, they will allow the poll worker to tell a person if they came to the wrong polling location or got in the wrong line at a multi-division polling place. For example, right not if you are in ward 8 division 12 but get in the division 11 line, the poll working can merely tell you that you aren’t supposed to vote there, not where you are supposed to vote. The new system will allow them to say, “actually you are across the gym” or “actually, you are at the school 2 blocks away” This will save voters from having to call and wait to find their polling place, speeding the entire process up and making sure every voter has equal access.
What actions would you take to ensure that the office of the Commissioners is fully transparent in its decision-making? What would you do to ensure that the public has full access to decisions made by the Commissioners?
This process has been on going for years but really picked up this spring and summer. I met or tried to meet with everyone I could to talk about it, though I feel everyone thought it would not be happening. I tried writing an Op-Ed to the Inquirer but was told it was not likely to be published because there was no “call to action”. When I would reach out to groups to speak and offered the topic of new voting system, I was told ‘no’ and that they would rather hear about the 2018 General Election and stats on youth voting. That is why I called for the two public comment sessions at the beginning of January, held after work and on a Saturday morning, to jump start the conversation- and it worked. Since then we have had a five-week conversation, a full two weeks longer that Montgomery County. I had the PowerPoint, my remarks, and a Spanish translation of my remarks from the public comment sessions posted on our website. To further encourage public participation, I mailed a letter to every elected Judge of Elections in the City and encouraged them to contact my office and offer their opinion. I have been to meetings all over the city to discuss new voting systems; people have mailed, emailed, and called my office, and whole ward party committees have passed resolutions expressing their preference. I met with representatives from the Committee of 70, Neighborhood Networks, Disability Rights PA, Verified Voting, Common Cause, League of Woman Voters, Office of Immigrant Affairs, and the NAACP. Since the beginning of the year, we held the special public comment meetings on January 10th and January 12th and also heard public comments during our regularly scheduled meetings on January 30th, February 6th, and February 13th. We will have public comment before our meeting on February 20th. The meeting on February 13th only had one commenter, and everyone who wished to be heard has been given a chance. Their feedback was communicated to the Selection Committee. I know the process was frustrating for everyone involved and it was not the process that I wanted but the risk of decertification was too great going in the 2020 election, which will be the most important of our lifetimes.
Given that the issues facing polling places and poll workers are often governed by state law, what changes would you advocate for in Harrisburg to improve the efficiency of Philly’s polling places?
Poll Places are governed by state law, addition in Philadelphia, we are held to a consent degree, that is specific to ADA requirements for our polling places. However, I did work with City Council to successful pass a resolution to urging charter schools to have an inservice day for staff , like public school, to allow more charters school so be available as polling places. Having more polling places will lessen lines and ensure that voters have the time to vote.
How do you think resources (including staff and budget) and duties should be divided among the three Commissioners?
Most of the budget is fixed cost related to running elections; The reminding monies is split equally amount the Commissioners, with some addition money going to the Chair because the Chair has additional adds duties related to the day to day operations of of the office along with serving on the Elections board.