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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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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Special elections down south could make a huge difference

You thought there would be time to rest after Election Day? C’mon. There are some big special elections coming down the pike already!

In Virginia, Democrats could take the State House of Delegates and win a state government trifecta if they can pull off an upset in the special election for HD-24. It’s a historically very red seat, but remember that Democrats flipped a ton of red seats in the Virginia legislature in 2017 and won big in congressional elections there this year, so the party is motivated and firing on all cylinders.

The Democratic nominee, chosen yesterday, is Christian Worth. The Republican nomination is a bit cloudy right now, as two candidates are separated by a single vote and there’s been no concession. Perhaps Democrats can take advantage of the division and grab the seat. The election is December 18th.

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As Stacey Abrams fights for every vote, Democrat John Barrow fights to replace Brian Kemp and save democracy

Stacey Abrams’ tireless post-Election Day campaign to get every possible vote in Georgia counted isn’t just about trying to win the governorship today. Her fight is also exposing the true breadth of the damage done to the state’s democracy by her opponent, former Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp.

We knew about the 1.6 million voters he erased from the system over his two terms, the largest such purge in American history. We knew about the ridiculous lawsuit he filed days before the election. We knew about the over 50,000 people he wanted to ban from voting with trapdoor inanities. And on Election Day, we saw how he abused voters by throttling the number of voting machines in largely minority districts. Now comes word about the absentee ballots sent out late by his office, his efforts to throw out provisional ballots, and Kemp’s continued legal battles against counting votes.

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