If you walk down Market Street on Nov. 6, odds are that you won't notice anything special. Stores will be open, cars will drive by, pedestrians will walk looking at their phones. The observant among us might notice the "I Voted" stickers, but that will be about it. Election Day will go largely unnoticed.
Election Day is a celebration of democracy, and we should mark it accordingly. With only three weeks left before the midterm election, it's time to start organizing the party.
Some companies are hosting a celebration of their own. Internet giants Facebook, Twitter, and Google all traditionally commemorate Election Day with a celebratory message for their users. Ride-sharing companies Uber and Lyft will offer free or discounted rides to the polls. Athletically inclined voters who'd rather cycle to the polls can claim free rides with Indego, Philadelphia's bike-share program, on Election Day. In past elections, Philadelphia businesses offered discounted or free food and drinks for patrons with an "I Voted" sticker.
SEPTA will not be joining the celebration. Even though 600 people signed a petition for SEPTA to provide free rides on Election Day, the transit agency declined. The petition, organized by the 5th Square Political Action Committee, cites a study that found that in 2016, transportation played a role in the decision of young people not to vote, especially young people of color. The study is not specific to Philadelphia, and according to Lisa Deeley, chair of the Philadelphia City Commissioners, access to public transportation isn't much of an issue in Philadelphia, where most polling locations are within five blocks of a voter's home. The cost of having SEPTA free for a full day would be more than $1 million, according to a WHYY calculation.
In the past, SEPTA teamed up with private companies to provide free rides for various Philly celebrations. When the Eagles won the Super Bowl, SEPTA teamed up with Independence Blue Cross to provide free rides. SEPTA worked this year with Miller Lite and Jefferson Health to provide free rides on the Broad Street Line after Eagles home games. Why not find a corporate partner to help celebrate democracy on Election Day?
Philadelphia loves to celebrate. It celebrates the Eagles, Phillies, the Pope, Fourth of July, the Mummers. Election Day shouldn't be different.
Unfortunately, most Philadelphians won't even show at the party on Nov. 6. In the May primary election, only 17 percent of registered voters cast their ballot in Philadelphia. While general elections usually have higher participation than primary elections, the turnout is still not very impressive. In the last midterm election, 2014, Philadelphia was the county with the lowest turnout in Pa. — only 35 percent voted.
To increase voter turnout, there needs to be a restructuring of our entire voting system that moves toward same-day registration and mail-in ballots. That might not have impact on those indifferent to the importance of free elections or disenfranchised from the system, but it would be a start.