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?
Omar Sabir is a husband, father of 5, lifelong Philadelphian, and a public servant who has focused his career on tackling voter apathy and educating communities on the importance of civic engagement. Sabir has led a life of grassroots community and advocacy, working for the Office of Senator Vincent Hughes, the Nathaniel Sabir Memorial Scholarship Fund, Citizens for State Rep. Louise Williams Bishop, and as a union construction worker. Most Philadelphians know him from barber shops, community centers and individual stoops of inner- city neighborhoods, discussing with residents the importance of registering to vote, the impact of elections, the threat of voter suppression and the need to ensure fair elections.
Sabir, architect of the popular Vote Philly Vote organization was the first Muslim with an Islamic name to win a judgeship in the state of Pennsylvania. Although the Traffic Court was abolished in 2013, just prior to Sabir beginning his tenure, the huge margin of his Democratic primary victory showed the reach of his appeal, passion and support. As the Founder of Vote Philly Vote, Omar aims to incrementally increase voter turnout across the city of Philadelphia until more than 90% of all registered voters participate in all city elections. All of these experiences give Omar the qualifications needed to lead as a Philadelphia City Commissioner.
My top three priorities include the following:
- My plan involves allocating real resources towards executing the voting process, which includes recruiting qualified Election Board workers and making the Commissioners office more accessible. If the Commissioners office becomes more accessible, we can hear the people’s concerns to build enthusiasm about voting. This will turn apathy into energy.
- Educating our communities on the importance of civic engagement while encouraging people to vote! Education will include developing civic engagement programs for high school and college students to ensure that young people will understand how being an engaged voter can improve their lives and communities. These programs for the community will also include educating citizens on the voter politics and procedures. If we have a higher voter turnout than Philadelphia will have more resources and more accountability towards elected officials.
- I will become an advocate for policies that make it easier to vote. Specific policies include same day registration, automatic registration, paid time off to vote, open primaries, same day voting, early voting, extend absentee time to vote, randomized ballot positions, and accessible voting hours.
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?
As City Commissioner, I will not have any authority to change the core functions of the office, only to carry out the duties of the office. If I can lend my expertise and knowledge to improve any aspect of the process, I will be happy to be involved to do so.
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?
We should invest substantial funding into community outreach and city-wide marketing campaigns that will encourage young citizens to vote. This same campaign should have a goal of recruiting qualified election workers. These jobs can go to young voters that will engage them in the process along with influencing their peers towards positive activities. This type of energy will create a friendly, safe, and clean environment for young voters to exercise their rights.
As the Commissioners Office, I would partner with local schools and colleges to develop civic engagement courses targeting young people. Educating our communities on the importance of civic engagement will ensure that young people understand how being an engaged voter can improve their lives and communities. High voter turnout will directly result in more funding for our communities and a higher quality of life for our neighbors. These programs will also include educating young citizens on the voter politics and procedures. If we have a higher voter turnout than Philadelphia will have more resources and more accountability towards elected officials.
To remove barriers for young people, we have to ensure that every Philadelphian has a polling place fully staffed within a very reasonable walking distance. Creating fair opportunities without barriers also include a voting process that is heavily accessible, modernization through processes, user-friendly technology, as well as a transparent honest experience.
What role, if any, do you believe City Commissioners play in educating the public about voting issues and the electoral process?
The City Commissioners can and should do everything possible to educate the public and encourage voting. The fact that more than half of E-BOARD positions have been vacant for decades show just how complacent our current officials are.
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?
The most serious issues include understaffed polls as well as heavy ward sanctions. Many ward leaders are known for doing business with candidates and pushing their own private agendas forward, that at times is not beneficial to the community as a whole.
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?
I would like to see early voting, absentee ballot reform, paid time off to vote, automatic voter registration. With my relationships with state legislatures, I would advocate for those changes on the state level. Work with advocacy groups, community groups, and outreach groups to raise the changes to the state level.
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?
Increase the compensation and better pay for poll workers. Advertise the positions online. Recruit college students and high school students for the opportunities. Training programs should take place on a monthly bases throughout the year so it is not crammed right before the election period.
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?
No, I do not believe this process was debated adequately fully with the community. Not all members of the public were fully represented for such a diverse city. I believe it would have been effective if there were a public hearings across the city to hear the feedback and concerns of the voters. The City Commissioners Office could have also been visible at events, programs, and initiatives already taking place, set up a table with a listening area, and a brief electronic survey for citizens to be educated on the new voting machines. Community Outreach is important to touch people where they are and this component is completely missing in the Commissioners Office.
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?
One system I would like to implement is Secured Digital Tablets that are currently being used in other U.S. Cities. The devices already have the security installed for protection. If we use an electronic system, we should remove the paper process which regulates the registration deadline for citizens to vote. With technology this would secure same day registering and voting with automatic real time updates.
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?
For transparency, the Commissioners could host official press conferences to get the information out to the public. Other system ideas include establishing email blast alerts, canvassing the city, online outreach via social media, text alerts, televise weekly meetings or live stream online weekly meetings, and daily social media posts. Local press tours will rotate the commissioners meetings across the city and invite the community to attend. In addition to mailed letters which are good, we should update the information sharing with current technology tactics.
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?
Each district and community should have a polling location in every division. Mobile voting trailers can be stationed in every district. These ADA equipped mobile trailers will remove the accessibility barrier in regards to location and transportation. I would also advocate for more security at the polling places with a hot line managed by the Attorney General’s Office. If any concerns arise, the Attorney General’s Office would be on call to address immediately.
How do you think resources (including staff and budget) and duties should be divided among the three Commissioners?
Coordination, shared vision, shared responsibility, and a healthy work flow is key among the three City Commissioners. Each City Commissioner should have a small budget to pay for staff and supplies in their own office, but the majority of the budget should go to programs and staff which are overseen by the Commissioners as a whole. This office should divide all resources equally, and the same job duties would be divided fairly amongst the 3. If a Commissioner isn’t doing a fair job equally the other team members should have a system in place to reprimand the responsible party for full accountability.