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Adrian Rivera-Reyes, democratic socialist and current Penn grad student, spoke at the Philadelphia Town Hall. Rivera-Reyes could be elected as the first openly gay person and only millennial serving in Philadelphia’s City Council.

Credit: Grant Bianco

Philadelphia’s local election primary is approaching on May 21. In 2018, just one out of six voters in Philadelphia turned out for the primary election, and Penn Democrats is working to increase voter turnout by raising awareness on campus about this year’s local and state primaries.

Penn Dems is planning absentee ballot drives and hosting local candidates to speak at club meetings on campus. The group has also launched several initiatives to increase voter turnout, such as the Franklin Cup competition in collaboration with Penn Leads the Vote, which is a point-based competition that lets Penn students earn prizes by tabling and getting their friends to register to vote.

“Local elections sometimes get less coverage but they are nonetheless still very important,” Penn Dems Communications Director and College freshman Tamara Wurman said. “It’s super integral that we get our voices heard because the changes that people in City Council or City Commissioners are going to be pushing for directly are going to impact us.”

Penn student voters will be casting their ballots for the mayor, City Council representative for the 3rd District, seven candidates for an at-large seat on the City Council, as well as for the City's Commissioner and Sheriff.

College freshman Tamara Wurman is the Communications Director for Penn Dems. (Photo from Tamara Wurman)

Penn Dems voted in late February to endorse Jamie Gauthier, who is running against incumbent Jannie Blackwell for City Council’s 3rd District, which includes Penn. 

Penn Dems Political Director Owen Voutsinas-Klose said Gauthier, who graduated from Penn in 2004 with a master’s in City and Regional Planning, was an “easy choice" to endorse.

Penn Dems has also endorsed several other local candidates and campaigned on behalf of them. 

In addition to the upcoming Philadelphia primaries, there was a March special election in Philadelphia for a representative to the Pennsylvania State House. Voutsinas-Klose said the club hosted a phone-banking session shortly before spring break for Penn graduate Movita Johnson-Harrell, who won her special election to the Pennsylvania State House. 

“[Johnson-Harrell] had a history-making candidacy, and she’s now the first Muslim woman ever elected to the Pennsylvania House of Representatives,” said Voutsinas-Klose, who is a College sophomore. “There are a lot of people of color and Muslim Americans in Pennsylvania, and now they can look to her as their voice in government.”

Johnson-Harrell studied at Penn, earning her associate's and bachelor’s in Applied Sciences in 2001 and 2002, respectively, as well as a Master of Social Work in 2004. She now represents the 190th District, which includes areas of West Philadelphia northwest of Penn's campus.

Wurman, who is a Daily Pennsylvanian staff member, also said that Johnson-Harrell’s mission aligned with the club’s goals.

“[Johnson-Harrell] talks about empowering young people and pursuing a lot of progressive legislation, things like education and jobs, economic opportunity,” Wurman said, adding that these are also central goals for Penn Dems.

Voutsinas-Klose said it was important to support Johnson-Harrell even in a region with 90% of Democratic voters because she was running against independents in a special election, which tends to have lower turnout.

Penn Dems President and College sophomore Emma Carlson said Dems chooses who to endorse based on unique situations and knowledge of a candidate.

“We’re pretty careful to not endorse a single Democrat over another until we’ve met a lot of them or talked with them,” Carlson said.

Credit: Tamara Wurman

College sophomore and Penn Dems President Emma Carlson with Attorney General of Pennsylvania Josh Shapiro.

“We’re trying to stay neutral in most of the races, so we’re just going to keep people informed and getting them to make their own decision,” Voutsinas-Klose added.

Wurman said their protocol for endorsements is not “super specific,” but that two-thirds of the executive board votes to endorse after hearing the candidate speak and listening to the feedback of club members.

Penn Dems is also hosting a City Commissioner Forum, a discussion moderated by Philadelphia Inquirer reporter Jonathan Lai, on April 23.

While Penn students can register to vote in Philadelphia, the primary election on May 21 will take place after final exams and commencement. Students not on campus can file an absentee ballot to participate in the upcoming election.