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I’d be willing to bet that most people reading this column voted in the 2008 presidential election if they were eligible. I’d also be willing to bet most people understand the importance Pennsylvania plays in national electoral politics — we’re a swing state that candidates of both parties fiercely compete for in the primary and general elections. I would also bet, though, that most people reading this newspaper don’t know there is an election in just two weeks which affects us just as much, if not more, than national elections.

This Nov. 3, Pennsylvania voters will cast their ballots for a series of important positions. Let’s buck Senator Tom Coburn for a bit and have a PoliSci 101 lesson on what we’re voting on and why we should care.

Philadelphia voters specifically will vote for Court of Common Pleas and Municipal Court judges, in addition to the statewide judicial positions up for election. These positions are integral to the Pennsylvania state government, but, unless you end up in court, are roles that will rarely affect students’ daily lives. Perhaps most importantly for Penn students, the district attorney and city controller positions are up for grabs.

The DA is the primary investigator and prosecutor for crimes within Philadelphia County. Carol Jenkins, the 27th ward democratic leader (in which Penn is located), said, “the district attorney sets the tone for prosecutions in Philadelphia. How you deal with drug offenders, how financial crimes are prosecuted, how you deal with violent crime, all of these are determined by the district attorney’s office and have a broad impact throughout the city.” The city controller is the city’s head auditor and Philadelphia’s primary watchdog for preventing city-government waste and promoting the efficiency of city government and services.

So why should you, Joe Penn Student, care about this election? After all, you’ve likely never heard of most of the people on the ballot, you probably haven’t lived here for more than a couple years, and there’s no one on Locust Walk harassing you to register to vote.

After the excruciating state budget process, we should all understand the importance of a city controller who makes sound investments and encourages efficient government. If the city doesn’t have good financial planning and has to cut services to meet its budget, that could mean a reduction in city services, such as fewer trash pick-up days. You think Hamilton Walk smells bad now? Imagine it with a month’s worth of trash piled up.

The DA race’s impact on Penn students should be a no-brainer. Philadelphia had a higher per-capita murder rate than New York City, Chicago or Los Angeles in 2007, and our DA is directly responsible for the policies that affect the safety of our streets. Remember the shooting outside Philly Diner last year? The DA is in charge of prosecuting gun violations. Recall the hundreds-large mob of West Philly youth at 40th and Walnut? The DA handles how (and if) those individuals are prosecuted, and comes up with a plan to keep kids off the streets.

I wholeheartedly agree with the DP editorial run a few weeks ago stating that students who do not know the issues should not vote — but learning about the candidates running is easy for students who regularly ace midterms in OPIM, Orgo and Ancient Greek History.

Two nonpartisan organizations have web sites that are useful for people who have no idea how to vote — the Committee of Seventy,, and The League of Women Voters of Pennsylvania, Beyond the immediate impact of street cleanliness and safety, you should vote because you are part of the Philadelphia community for the four years you’re here, even if you never venture past the boundaries of 34th or 40th streets. Take 30 minutes, go to the web sites, read up on the candidates and vote on November 3rd. Not only will your civic sense of pride be fulfilled, but you’ll have the opportunity to impact the community in a positive way.

Lauren Burdette is a College senior from Overland Park, Kansas, and the former president of Penn Dems. Her e-mail address is

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