On Tuesday, March 21, a majority Democratic district in North Philadelphia will likely elect a Republican state representative. And Penn Democrats are doing little to intervene.
After the resignation of incumbent Democrat Leslie Acosta due to her guilty plea for embezzlement, a special election was called for Pennsylvania House of Representatives District 197. But the Democrats’ original candidate was disqualified when a court ruled he was ineligible to run since he didn’t live in North Philadelphia, and the ruling came after the deadline to find a replacement, . Now, Republican Lucinda Little is the only candidate who will be on the North Philadelphia ballot for Tuesday’s special election.
“It doesn’t really matter,” Wharton freshman and Penn Democrats Political Director Dylan Milligan said about the election’s outcome.
“The House already has 121 Republicans and our governor is a Democrat,” Milligan said. “We have a divided government, and that wouldn’t change.”
Milligan explained the strategic reasons why the organization isn’t mobilizing for the write-in campaign of Democratic candidate Emilio Vazquez.
“A Democrat will take that seat in the next election ... so between now and 2018, one more Republican in the House makes zero difference. It’s fine if there’s this no-name Republican who will just be unseated in two years,” Milligan said.
But for political science professor and FiveThirtyEight blogger Dan Hopkins, a key issue surrounding this election is representation.
“Voters have a right to choose between the key parties that represent them, and to structure an election without either of the major parties seems to be denying voters their opportunity to make a reasoned choice,” Hopkins said. He added, however, that he hasn’t followed the election closely.
The election, in which Republican Lucinda Little is the only registered candidate, will determine state representation for an area of North Philadelphia that is 85 percent Democratic, .
However, for Penn Democrats, it simply doesn’t pay to intervene.
“First of all, North Philly is kind of far away for us,” Milligan said. “Our ‘get out the vote’ efforts are mainly for big elections like the midterms and presidential elections. But I don’t think a GOTV would make a big difference if we were to do it. You have to realize that people don’t care.”
But according to Hopkins, there’s a good reason to care.
“State houses have tremendous influence over the policies that govern our day-to-day lives ... Harrisburg is a central source of power,” Hopkins said.
“A lot of key policies here in Philadelphia are written in Harrisburg, so I think it’s unfortunate that many voters view state politics as just an occasional addendum to national politics,” he added.
Hopkins, who is currently writing a book on “how little attention people pay to state politics,” continued on to talk about his expectation of a low turnout and the general difficulty of write-in campaigns.
“Write-in campaigns are known to be very, very challenging endeavors — they require a pretty high level of information from voters,” Hopkins said. “Also, in bi-elections, turnout is typically very low. Turnout has also been declining in state politics generally.”