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Photo: Ilana Wurman

Numerous Penn students filed into various locations on campus last week to elect several important city leaders. However, some student groups were actively involved in the election weeks before it even occurred. 

On Nov. 7, residents voted for Philadelphia's new district attorney and city controller, among other positions. Democratic candidates won nearly all of the seats contested in Philadelphia. 

The most high profile election was the race for DA, who represents the city government in the prosecution of criminal cases. Democrat Larry Krasner, a civil rights defense attorney who champions criminal justice reform, won the election, beating out Republican Beth Grossman.

Krasner, who does not have prior experience as a prosecutor, said he will protect immigrant rights in the city and avoid requiring cash bail in the trials of non-violent offenders. 

At Penn, several student groups worked to encourage voter turnout on campus.

Working in line with their new focus on local politics, Penn Democrats helped more than 100 students register to vote, said Penn Dems President and College junior Rachel Pomerantz. 

NextGen, a new group on campus that aims to increase student participation in politics and promote progressive causes, was only established after the Philadelphia voter registration deadline on Oct. 10, but nonetheless worked to inform students of the election.

"We tabled on Monday, letting people know that there was an election happening the next day, where their polling place was, and helping them understand the candidates," said Co-president of NextGen and College sophomore Nicole Brigstock.  

Brigstock said encouraging voter turnout for local elections is an important mission of the club, which hopes to change the popular misconception that political change only happens at a federal level.

"Much of our day-to-day life is influenced by smaller elections," Brigstock said.  "Showing up to vote once every four years is not going to cut it."

College junior Kathleen Norton voted in Harnwell College House and said the process was quick and easy since few people were in line. She added that a NextGen student volunteer helped her understand how and where to vote.  

"I get very confused about voting, so I probably wouldn't have voted if there wasn't a booth outside Harnwell," she said.  

Brigstock said while many students seemed to know about the elections, most were unsure about their registration status or polling location. She said she hoped to continue preparing students to vote and "get people pumped for midterm elections." 

While Pomerantz said she was not surprised by the election results because of the large majority of registered Democrats in Philadelphia, she was pleasantly surprised by the degree of student participation.

"Turnout was really good considering the fact that it was an off-year election," Pomerantz said. "We were really excited to see the enthusiasm on campus for Larry Krasner because he is a seminal figure in how Philadelphia thinks about criminal justice."  

Krasner's win in the Democratic primary in May attracted national attention from high-profile figures like John Legend, a Grammy Award-winning singer and 1999 College graduate, due to Krasner's focus on progressive proposals for criminal justice reform and his background as a defense attorney.

The DA race was also particularly controversial because of the former DA Seth Williams, who resigned in June after pleading guilty to charges of bribery, extortion, and fraud. He was sentenced to five years in prison late last month.  

Pomerantz said Penn Dems also participated in "get out the vote" operations in Virginia the weekend before election day, and added that she was pleased with the voting results nationwide. 

"I hope it carries over to 2018 with high voting numbers and people from all backgrounds running for office," Pomerantz said.

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