City Commissioner Candidate Luigi Borda
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?
The Commissioner’s Office needs to completely reform the way we approach elections. To do this, I will enact the following two-prong approach. First prong, Immediate solutions; Hire and train a nonpartisan Voter Turnout Division (VTD) of five campaign professionals with experience in field operations, assigning each one a region of the city. These individuals will assist Ward Leaders, CMs, and community leaders in driving up voter registration and turnout on election day. They will approach each Ward in their region with a prescribed method based on Jonathan Tannen’s Turnout Funnel (I taught Jonathan 9th grade Social Studies); Implement a texting platform that will remind, update and provide necessary voter information including upcoming deadlines so that our electorate can be fully informed; Research shows that the quickest way to increase turnout is to engage and register new voters and encourage their participation in the democratic process, so the VTD representatives will communicate directly with newly registered voters in their area and serve as a resource for any questions they may have. Second prong, the long term solution to address Philly’s poor voter turnout culture: Implement my Philly Civics 101 course in all Philadelphia schools. This program will instruct all young students on the nuances and intricacies of the Philadelphia’s election process in an effort to remove cognitive barriers to voting, and start the long process of changing our city’s voting culture.
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?
Public Trust/Operational Failure: The city should overturn the purchase of the new voting machines by the Commissioner’s Office, and replace them with paper-marked ballots that are able to be verified against the digital record. With this, we will instill absolute confidence that our elections are hack-proof and verifiable. Moreover, these machines are less likely to experience operational failure, so we must continue to advocate for them. The Office must also do a better job at building community relationships and communicating with residents to establish a presence that can be trusted. Election Protection: We must develop a better election protection unit of volunteer lawyers that can immediately respond to instances of voter intimidation at polling locations. We can accomplish this by reaching out to the Bar Association and establishing a deeper relationship with regional law firms that will allow their employees to have a paid day off work to volunteer for the city’s elections. Corruption: We can protect against corruption by training a more diverse pool of committee members that are interested primarily in serving their communities and increasing nonpartisan voter turnout. This effort will benefit in turn by continuing to chip away of the City Committee’s stranglehold over our political structure. Fraud: Any efforts to combat voter fraud should only be pursued if the threat of fraud increases and such efforts don’t risk decreasing voter turnout out of fear or confusion.
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?
It is imperative that voting becomes an enjoyable, rewarding experience, to encourage voters to return. The main issues here are access and information. Any lack of access to vote, or confusion with the process will only suppress turnout. All polling locations must be ADA compliant, and should be as close as possible to the center of the precinct to allow equal access for all residents. We also need to have translated ballots for voters with limited english proficiency, and manuals that can translate the ballot from one’s native tongue to english to help guide them during the voting process. For voters that have confirmed disabilities, members of the Voter Turnout Division (VTD) will reach out to them directly before election day to ask if they need any assistance getting to the polls or while they are there. The members of the VTD will then work with volunteers and committee members to ensure that those who need assistance are adequately serviced. For communities with significant communities of limited English proficiency voters, bilingual poll workers will be posted to distribute as much information as possible, as well as text messages sent with a link to the ballot in their native language so that they can familiarize themselves with the candidates, such texting efforts are shown to increase turnout, especially when used in tandem with other turnout techniques as specific as the frequency, tone and style of message sent.
How do you intend to recruit, prepare and retain poll workers to fill the more than 8,000 neighborhood Election Board positions citywide?
This is one of the greatest recruiting challenges of the year; moreover, we have to do it correctly, and we have to do it twice. Recruitment efforts will be done throughout centralized list of volunteers, community leaders and Ward Leaders. The Commissioner’s Office must work with community leaders, City Committee, Ward Leaders and Committee Members to staff any open position and start a two-month confirmation process of confirming each expected workers availability. The success and failure of these efforts depends on strong communication and knowledge of which wards and precincts have difficulty staffing their poll’s positions. The Commissioner’s Office should do an annual audit that seeks out areas with persistent issues and then work with the folks on the ground to fill those vacancies permanently. We also need to strengthen our training process for election day workers, while not making the process too laborious to participate in for most Philadelphians. As incentive, we must pay election day workers a minimum wage of $15 a hour, for all thirteen plus hours they are onsite. At the center of Philadelphia’s voter program will be a properly motivated and trained corps of election day workers, and to make that happen we will need to invest time and money in that process.
How will you contribute to strategic, evidence-based and high-impact voter engagement and information efforts in the City of Philadelphia?
The Commissioner’s Office has the greatest potential to directly impact Philly’s systemic issues by increasing voter turnout. That cannot be done without the guidance and use of the wealth of scholarly research on the topic. As Commissioner, I will only make decisions to engage voters that are grounded in the latest applicable research. If we want to truly increase turnout, we have to be thoughtful and willing to take a new approach. We must also accept that driving turnout is largely a campaign function, not a government one. So we should develop a nonpartisan Voter Turnout Division in the Commissioner’s Office to lead this effort. Such efforts shouldn’t be fodder for press releases, but substantive by addressing poor turnout with a two prong approach that addresses the systemic, and immediately addressable issues that hold us back. Moreover, I think the Commissioner’s Office has the opportunity to lead the country in voter turnout research and data. As Commissioner, I will partner with our region’s research institutions to study our efforts to impact turnout. Under my leadership, we will be seeking to turnout voters that aren’t primarily being targeted by political campaigns, while still urging “likely voters” to vote. That will entice researches to help us if we partner to conduct turnout experiments to benefit their field and our city.