The US presidential election is just 19 months away. The fate of the country may be dependent by what happens within our State, and the State vote could very well hinge upon what happens in Philadelphia. In 2016, Pennsylvania’s choice for president was decided by a little over 44,000 votes. According to the most recent census estimates and voter registration data, there are over 80,000 unregistered citizens within our City’s boundaries.
Why the large number of unregistered voters? A recent study, published in the Election Law Journal in September of 2018, ranked Pennsylvania 31st among the 50 states in ease of voter registration and access to vote. Imagine what effect registering these voters in Philadelphia might have had upon the election in the State in 2016.
Many of us in this room understand the lack of political will on the part of the General Assembly to effect the necessary changes to narrow the voter registration gap in the State. What is less understandable is why the School District of Philadelphia has not addressed the urgency of this issue within its purview. Native born and naturalized High school students in the district turn 18 years old every day of the year. Why aren’t these students given voter registration forms the day, week, or month that they turn 18? A homeroom teacher or a counselor might be able to perform such a task, along with spending a few minutes to assure that the form is completed correctly. There are also numerous people and organizations more than willing to lend a helping hand. Groups like POWER, the League of Women Voters, and retiree volunteers are currently involved in many of such registration initiatives in schools, once they know which students to register. Voter registration and voter engagement could even be a part of a civics curriculum in high school. In Maryland and Nebraska, school sanctioned student registrars are trained and certified to perform voter registration in their schools.
The benefits to the district should be self-evident. Since the district is constantly seeking adequate funding from the City and the State, an augmented electorate that is directly affected by insufficient resources should make obvious allies. And this constituency would be even larger if the district registered parents – many of whom are recently naturalized citizens, at the time of their children’s enrollment.
Recently I had the opportunity of interviewing candidates for City Commissioner, several of whom stated having conversations with Dr. Hite where he had expressed reservations about such activities because of the appearance of partisan politics. Whether such information is true, voter registration as a process is non-partisan, and, for whatever the district is doing, it can do so much more.