Few Penn students vote in Philly primaries

· May 19, 2011, 4:39 pm   ·  Updated May 26, 2011, 12:00 am

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Three large voting machines were moved into Harrison College House — but that didn’t motivate many students to vote in the Philadelphia primary elections on May 17.

Harrison was one of multiple on-campus voting locations for the city’s municipal primaries, which included the Democratic and Republican mayoral primaries. However, only 15 votes were cast at Harrison and 11 were tallied at Houston Hall.

Many students left campus after exams last week and graduation on Monday. The low voter turnout paralleled a city-wide phenomenon.

Voter turnout across Philadelphia was very low this year — 17.6 percent, according to The Philadelphia Inquirer.

Former Penn Democrats President and current Legislative Director Emma Ellman-Golan acknowledged how difficult it was to get the student vote for this particular election.

“We know from experience that our regular [get-out-the-vote] efforts don’t work for May primaries,” Ellman-Golan, a rising College senior, wrote in an email, “so we concentrated our efforts on targeting students who would be more inclined to take on the [multi]-step process of voting absentee.”

In the Democratic mayoral primary, Mayor Michael Nutter won 75.9 percent of the vote, securing his nomination as the Democratic candidate for the 2011 mayoral election. Nutter beat out T. Milton Street, a former state representative and senator and the brother of former mayor John F. Street

“It’s time for us to turn the page, work together — and if we do that, we will bring about the new Philadelphia that we need and, more importantly, that we deserve,” Nutter said in his victory speech.

“We are thrilled but not surprised that Mayor Nutter easily won his primary race,” Ellman-Golan wrote. “He has made significant improvements in this city, especially on economic development and public safety.”

On the Republican side, Karen Brown, a former schoolteacher and a Democrat-turned-Republican, had a narrow lead over realtor John Featherman. After counting ballots from voting machines, Brown led Featherman by just 57 votes. When absentee ballots were counted, the final tally gave Brown had a 58-vote lead, according to unofficial results obtained by the Inquirer. Provisional ballots have yet to be counted.

The council seat for District 3, which includes University City, was uncontested this year. Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell will enter her sixth term on the City Council.

College Republicans President and rising Wharton and College senior Charles Gray worked the polls at Houston Hall on Election Day. He said it is important for Penn students to be involved in local politics.

“If citizens do not engage with local issues, politicians will take advantage of us,” Gray, a Daily Pennsylvanian columnist, wrote in an email.

The Deferred Retirement Option Program is one example of this, he said. DROP allows city officials to retire, collect pension and then reassume their offices or positions while still collecting their retirement pensions. This program has cost Philadelphia an extra $258 million over the last decade, according to a report by Boston College researchers.

“Today, voters spoke out and did not support many of the [candidates] who participated in the program,” Gray said. “That shows the power of the engaged citizen.”

The College Republicans and Penn Dems are working to increase local political dialogue on campus. According to Gray, they plan to stage debates between the mayoral candidates and At-Large City Council candidates on Penn’s campus this fall.

The general elections will take place on November 8.

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