City Commissioner Candidate Kahlil Williams
What specific actions would you take to create and implement a strategic plan for improving Philadelphia elections and the voting experience that includes collaboration with various stakeholders inside and outside city government?
First, I will convene several public meetings per year in neighborhoods other than where the Commissioners meetings typically occur (Delaware & Spring Garden or City Hall). This will mean getting out into the neighborhoods, publicizing meetings, and engaging people where they are about the importance of voting and elections. Next, I will work with the School District of Philadelphia to formalize a curriculum for middle school and high school students on voting, which includes teaching students how to look for information to research candidates, the mechanics of using a voting machine, and the rules around voting. I intend to be a vocal advocate for election reforms (e.g., no-excuse absentee ballots, same day registration, early voting) at the state level. Finally, the Commissioners’ office should be forging partnerships with other public-facing government programs, including the Mayor’s Commission on African American Males and the Mayor’s Commission on People with Disabilities, both of whom have experienced barriers to the polls, and need to be more included in the process. Those partnerships should be public and active.
What will you do to protect the integrity of city elections and build public trust in the process, safeguarding against fraud, intimidation, corruption and operational failures?
Part of earning public trust is engaging and convening stakeholders like voting rights groups, civil rights groups, etc, to discuss recurring issues and prepare for them ahead of the next election. Many of the issues that arise on Election Day (lack of translators, poorly-trained poll workers, accessibility issues happen election after election), so being on top of those problems and finding solutions will help folks be more trusting of the electoral process. To prevent fraud and intimidation, we should continue to forge partnerships with the District Attorney and involve the Attorney General to ensure that intimidation and harassment are squashed, both before and on Election Day. We also need to create social media assets and other lines of communication to report such issues (like @866OurVote). Generally speaking, people have more confidence in processes that are easy to use. The City Commissioners must create “howto” guides and videos on various aspects of the voting process, including how to obtain an absentee ballot, how to request assistance at the polls, and how to determine a voter’s polling place. These materials help to promote a feeling that the Commissioners Office wants people to vote and will provide necessary assistance to that end.
How will you guarantee equal access and a smooth, high-quality voting experience for Philadelphia’s diverse electorate, including our disabled and limited English proficiency voters?
Aside from the above-mentioned educational aspect, many election reforms that have been proposed and implemented in other states would play a large part in making elections more accessible. No-fault absentee balloting, early voting, voting centers, and Election Day as a holiday all alleviate the pressure of voting on just one day at one time. Additionally, translators are the lowest paid workers through the City Commissioners office. Interpreters are currently the lowest paid workers, amounting to about $7.30 per hour, which might be unaffordable for someone who wants to serve, but has to decide between working the polls or collecting a regular paycheck. We need to pay folks appropriately for their time.
How do you intend to recruit, prepare and retain poll workers to fill the more than 8,000 neighborhood Election Board positions citywide?
Although Philadelphia recently authorized an historic pay raise for poll workers, Judges of Elections--who are paid the most--still only make just above our Commonwealth’s anemic minimum wage for 15 hours on election day (from 6am to 9pm). Paying folks appropriately for their time would help the Commissioners’ Office attract and retain poll workers. During budget hearings this month, the City revealed that it was looking to budget $1.2 million for a climate controlled warehouse for our new voting machines. Investing half of that figure in poll worker salaries would increase pay for 8,000 workers by $150 per year. I would also work to remove the restriction of limiting poll workers to their divisions or wards, and draw from a deeper pool of students, including law students, that could be deployed across the city to administer elections. Philadelphia has colleges and universities that are full of people that want to become more involved in their communities and intend to make Philadelphia home. Recruiting these folks to help run elections helps to infuse more technological awareness into each polling place, and it creates incentives for students to visit and explore other parts of the city. For law students, I’d work with the Pennsylvania Bar Association to offer pro bono hours for those who help administer elections., which would make these jobs more attractive.
How will you contribute to strategic, evidence-based and high-impact voter engagement and information efforts in the City of Philadelphia?
My office will focus resources on communities in the city that lag in turnout; the meetings we hold outside downtown should target areas underserved areas of Philadelphia, and we should target registration and outreach in parts of the city that, by the numbers, participate less frequently in the political process. The Commissioners are fully aware of which neighborhoods have fewer registered voters and lower turnout rates, and we should be making sure that the Office’s message and efforts touches those places.