This little-known Philadelphia office is a key to voter turnout in 2020

The road to the White House will, as always, run through Pennsylvania in 2020. A swing state at every other level, Pennsylvania had gone blue in every presidential election since 1988 before Donald Trump swung it Republican in 2016, a shocking victory that has largely been chalked up to his strength in the state’s suburbs and more rural counties. But it wasn’t just his own campaign’s strengths that won him the Keystone State — just as crucial was the drop in turnout in urban areas, including Philadelphia.

Sure, Hillary Clinton won 82% of the vote in Philly, but percentages can be misleading — she beat Trump by about 35,000 fewer votes than Barack Obama beat Mitt Romney in the 2012 campaign. Turnout was down in the city’s less affluent wards, and while some of the blame certainly falls on the Clinton campaign, the city itself also deserves some heat for ongoing voting issues.

Even in the 2018 election, when Democrats won some big elections in Pennsylvania, Philadelphia ranked 63rd out of 67 counties in voter turnout. It’s a troubling number, especially in a big city that could use a lot more democracy. And as much as grassroots organizations can work to register and turn out voters, the onus is also on the city to make voting much more accessible. That is the job of the City Commissioner’s office, which oversees Philadelphia’s elections and runs its voter education programs.

So, how do we help reform that little-known but absolutely crucial office? Enter Jen Devor, a long-time community organizer and committeeperson for the city’s 36th ward. She has been working to build grassroots power within Philadelphia’s working communities for over a decade. The Commissioner’s office consists of three members, including two for the majority (Democratic) party, and she’s running in a crowded primary on the idea of turning it into a year-round outreach and education operation, to rekindle democracy in the city and ultimately increase turnout.

Progressives Everywhere spoke with Devor about her campaign, the issues with Philadelphia’s voting system, and how she plans on fixing them.

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Iowa county elects a black woman, GOP again floats changes to the whole electoral system

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: Republicans lose an election, then decide they want to change the rules.

Earlier this month, voters in Johnson County, Iowa elected Democrat Royceann Porterto the Board of Supervisors, making her the first African-American supervisor in the county’s history. Now, Republicans are making noise about wanting to remake the entire system, changing from at-large elections (which is how nearly every Iowa county does it) to district-based contests.

Republican Phil Hemingway, who got thumped 56-43%, thinks that geography is why he lost. Via local KCRG TV:

Following his recent defeat, Hemingway is analyzing what went wrong during that special election. At least playing a factor, he says, electing supervisors to county-wide positions. It could be benefiting Democrats as the large metro population tends to vote left, overshadowing right-leaning rural votes.

“I think can’t look at the results of this past special election and draw any other conclusion but that.”

Democrats dominate the Board of Supervisors in Johnson County, but that’s not due to any flaw in the government structure; Johnson County is home to Iowa City and is the most liberal county in the state, which makes Democratic dominance of local politics no strange coincidence or irregularity. It’s in the state’s second congressional district, represented by Dave Loebsack. Trying to get more Republicans in office isn’t ameliorating a problem, it’s creating an unnatural imbalance.

Ironically, the at-large representation system has been used to disenfranchise black voters in the South, as it negates the power of geographically concentrated minorities. In the case of Iowa City, some Democrats say that Republicans are actually spread out enough that changing the system may not even make a difference.

Rod Sullivan, Democrat, and longtime supervisor felt the switch to districts wouldn’t really change much. He explained the law requires equally proportion populations in each of what would be five divisions of about 31,000 people. Metro zones, he said, would still likely be a big influence on each of them.

“Now you’ve got a North Liberty district, a Coralville district,” said Sullivan. “There would be two district’s completely contained in Iowa City. Plus another 15/20,000 Iowa City residents who would be combined with rural residents. There is just no way you can divide it up and get a district that is all rural.”

This is a broader Republican goal, as earlier this year, the party proposed messing with the way larger counties select representatives across all of Iowa, so as to dilute Democratic power in those counties. Right now, counties can choose to break things up into districts, but the GOP wants to FORCE them to do so.

We have to remain vigilant, because Republicans are like vampires that live on fresh democracy — they do their most bloodily efficient work under cover of the night. After all, in just the last month, the GOP has gutted voter-approved initiatives in Michigan (while considering doing so elsewhere) and launched attacks against fair redistricting in states across the country.

Missouri Republicans join the GOP anti-voter parade, plan to ignore elections and keep their gerrymander

The Republican Party’s post-election assault on democracy continues, with the latest front opening up in Missouri.

In November, an overwhelming bipartisan majority of Missourians passed a constitutional amendment nicknamed Clean Missouri, which will fundamentally change elections in the gerrymandered state. Gifts (from lobbyists) to lawmakers will be limited to $5, state officials will be subject to open records transparency laws, former state officials will have to wait two years to become lobbyists, and most significantly, a nonpartisan “state demographer” will now be appointed to draw state legislative districts that achieve partisan fairness.

Analysis has suggested that the redistricting provision will at first benefit Democrats, as the state’s current map is chopped up to keep Republicans in power. And because they value power (and steak dinners) over democracy, the state’s GOP leaders are openly discussing gutting and repealing the voter-approved amendment.

“Fundamentally, you think when the people vote you shouldn’t be changing that vote,” new Governor Mike Parson, who replaced corrupt ex-Gov. Eric Greitens last year, told the AP. “But the reality of it is that is somewhat what your job is sometimes, if you know something’s unconstitutional, if you know some of it’s not right.”

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The progressive group making a huge impact in red states

By mid-November, it was clear that the midterm elections went really well for Democrats — and even better for progressives.

Grassroots activists were able to enact a slew of progressive priorities via ballot initiatives, even in states where Democrats rarely win elections. In Idaho, Utah, and Nebraska, voters overwhelmingly chose to expand Medicaid. In Michigan, they supported nonpartisan redistricting reform, expanding voting rights, and legalizing marijuana. In Missouri and Arkansas, voters voted to raise the minimum wage. Floridians, meanwhile, gave the vote back to over a million rehabilitated ex-felons.

The list of victories goes on and on, marking triumphs for a number of grassroots groups and the ascendance of one national organization: The Fairness Project, a DC-based 501(c)(4) that works to support local activists at every step of the ballot initiative process. The organization was involved in each minimum wage and Medicaid expansion victory, a win for regulating payday loans in Colorado, and a number of other ballot wins last month.

“By actually putting progressive wins on the board there,” Jonathan Schleifer, the Executive Director of The Fairness Project, tells Progressives Everywhere, “we demonstrated that Americans are much less interested in the divisiveness of the current administration and much more interested — when given the opportunity — to look out for each other and actually make progressive policy.”

After a week filled with lame-duck Republican legislators making a mockery of democracy and thumbing their nose at voters, it’s clear that direct ballot initiatives are going to be even more essential tools in our activism. With that in mind, here is Progressives Everywhere’s conversation with Schleifer about how The Fairness Project goes about supporting grassroots groups and what’s coming next.

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The wreckage from a week of Republican power-grabs

The Republican Party has now fully entered the next phase of its all-out war on American democracy — not only are they cheating in an effort to win elections, they’ll now disregard the will of voters when they lose. After giving it a test run in 2016, when the GOP-controlled North Carolina legislature tried to strip Democratic Governor-elect Roy Cooper of many of his powers, Republicans are going all-in on the strategy in key states across the country.

The scheme played out this past week in Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio, and once again in North Carolina, where Republicans have become the nation’s leaders in abject and blatant cheating. It’s hard to keep up with all the corruption, as so many of the most insidious clauses and maneuvers are nestled into giant bills that were kept secret from the public up until now. To help catch you up, here’s a running list of state GOP’s anti-democratic lame-duck treachery.

Wisconsin:

In a marathon Tuesday night session that stretched into the next morning’s rush hour commute, the GOP-held legislature passed a number of bills that will hamstring Democratic Governor-elect Tony Evers and Attorney General-elect Josh Kaul. The state is already gerrymandered beyond belief, which allowed Republicans to keep their legislative majority despite Democrats earning a majority of statewide votes this November. You’d think that would send a message to GOP legislators, but that assumes that modern Republicans have consciences or even self-awareness.

Awaiting outgoing GOP Gov. Scott Walker’s signature are a number of bills that will significantly weaken the executive branch and hurt voters and working people. They will:

  • Curtail early voting, reducing it from six to two weeks before the election;
  • Double down on new Medicaid work requirements
  • Stripping the Attorney General of the ability to remove the state from lawsuits, including the suit against the Affordable Care Act
  • Takes away Evers power to control or disband a key economic development council
  • Require legislative approval for some decisions made by the Governor

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