Planning to cast your mail-in ballot this weekend and anticipating a line? It might not be so bad.
As part of a mission to support voters waiting in line, the Election Defenders — a group of volunteers organized by a coalition of progressive organizations — is launching a nationwide “Joy to the Polls” effort in Philadelphia on Saturday. The group is partnering with local artists and traveling around to early-voting locations in the city to provide musical entertainment to voters.
This weekend, the effort will bring the live music to the city’s satellite election offices, which opened over the last several weeks and allow voters to request and cast a mail-in ballot in one location. And they’ll be back on Election Day, partnering with artists across the country to take their roving concert national on Nov. 3.
Nelini Stamp, campaign director for Election Defenders and an organizer with the progressive Working Families Party, said the nonpartisan effort is aimed at motivating voters standing in lines that are longer than usual. While lines at Philadelphia’s satellite election offices have generally moved quickly, voters have reported waiting for hours to cast ballots in other states, in some cases because there are fewer polling locations open this year than in the past because the pandemic.
She said the hope is that the musical entertainment will also motivate people walking by to drop off their ballots or vote in-person if they haven’t already.
“There has been so much coverage and social media that has been focused on white supremacists, militias, intimidation tactics, aggressive electioneering. ... We’re figuring we can do something for the voters,” Stamp said. “We are here for the voters to motivate them, to stop the demobilization efforts, and bring some joy and love and happiness to people while they wait for a really long time on line.”
The group isn’t yet divulging most of the artists who will be involved — they don’t want fans who aren’t voting to show up at polling places for a show, and they’re planning to keep the performances short to keep crowds from forming. Some artists are also creating playlists that the group will provide to voters waiting in line if they miss out on a live show.
But one performer in Philadelphia will be Rich Medina, a DJ and producer who has lived in the city nearly 30 years. He said there’s enormous significance to contributing to the political fabric of the country in the same city where “the basic forming” of the nation took place.
“In our role [as artists,] we bring people happiness every day. Why can’t we apply those tactics to a situation where people aren’t expecting it?” he said. “The artists of the world and creatives always end up telling the stories of the everyday man. Here’s an opportunity to be proactive, aggressively so, without the need to declare a side or put a stake in being against anything. We are just there for the people. We are of the people.”
More broadly, Election Defenders consists of thousands of volunteers across the country who plan to station themselves near polling locations on Election Day and hand out water and personal protective equipment to voters. The volunteers will also be connected with a network of lawyers who can support voters turned away at the polls, and will be trained in “de-escalation” tactics should voters face intimidation or “aggressive electioneering,” Stamp said.
She added that the volunteers are planning to be hands-off and won’t interfere with voters unless asked.
“We’re here to give out hand sanitizer and water and hand warmers and hopefully some music,” she said, “and also, if you need somebody to help de-escalate, you got a buddy.”