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city-comissioner
Credit: Caroline Gibson

Philadelphia City Commissioner candidates discussed their goals to improve local election processes on Penn's campus Tuesday night.

The forum featured eight Democratic candidates: Marwan Kreidie, Luigi Borda, Kahlil Williams, Dennis Lee, Lisa Deeley, Moira Bohannon, Jennifer Devor, and Omar Sabir. Deeley is the incumbent City Commissioner and is in her first term. She is competing against the other 12 candidates for one of the two Democratic Commissioner seats. The event was moderated by Philadelphia Inquirer journalist Jonathan Lai and hosted by Penn Democrats.

There was unanimous agreement among the candidates on ensuring open primaries and same-day voter registration, but the Democrats diverged on what policies were best suited to increase voter turnout. Philadelphia’s Commissioners are responsible for ensuring fair and secure elections, including confirming all votes are accurately accounted for. They also select the polling locations for about 1,700 precincts in the city.

Some candidates also addressed their personal controversies. Lai prompted Deeley to speak about the implementation of Philadelphia’s new voting machines, which he said the public decried for its lack of transparency. Lai also pointed out gaps in Sabir’s and Devor’s voting history, which they both defended by saying that it took them a while to believe in the voting process.

“I can’t speak to 2011. That surprises me,” Devor said. “But this is so tough. This is like a really crazy debate, right?”

Kreidie and Bohannon answered questions about their inadequacy of funding, compared to the other candidates. Lai mentioned Kreidie's unpaid debt was nearly equivalent to the cash he had on hand, asking whether he had trouble paying his staff, which Kreidie said he did not. Bohannon addressed her lack of campaign funding, saying she was “bad at the ask,” referring to fundraising.

The potential commissioners also had the chance to talk about voting accessibility. Most of them agreed providing transportation to help voters physically get to the polling place and preparing for election days year-round were important. In fact, Kreidie emphasized making every voting place accessible through free public transit.

“Different disabilities come with different solutions,” Bohannon said.

As for language accessibility, Sabir and Kreidie said they wanted to recruit poll workers and translators who speak the language of the neighborhood. Bohannon and Lee focused on data analysis to find the most commonly spoken language as well as the locations of language barriers. Borda and Williams emphasized the role of the community; Borda suggested using retired teachers, and Williams suggested recruiting at colleges. 

“Get them to be a bigger part of the community," Williams said.

On a scale with one being "mostly disagree" to five being "mostly agree," Lai asked the candidates to write down their level of support for certain statements. A majority of the panelists agreed with “It is easy to vote in-person,” compared to a large disparity in answers for “The city commissioner should be an elected office.” 

Candidates also showed their support for some reforms read out loud by Lai by raising their hands. Every candidate supported open primaries and same-day voter registration, but did not all agree with policies requiring compulsory voting and policies only allowing voting by mail. Williams additionally proposed randomized ballot positions, which the panelists agreed on. Devor mentioned lowering the voting age to 16, and Borda suggested paying a small fine for not voting.

Penn Democrats is now in the process of discussing endorsing a candidate for City Commissioner. 

“We all look for somebody who’s going to get things done and has a history of getting things done,” Penn Dems Communications Director and College freshman Tamara Wurman, who is also a Daily Pennsylvanian staffer, said. “It really goes down to which reforms Dems thinks is going to be best for Philly, but also best for campus and who we think has the best concrete ideas.”

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