[OP-ED]: Voter Participation – Dismal Indicator of Democracy
The same week that America’s federal government plunged deeper into a governance crisis from misconduct by President Trump and members of his professed Law-&-Order administration, many Philadelphians took a big step towards restoring the vitality of democracy with their participation in the primary election.
Not only did Philadelphians select a Democratic Party candidate for District Attorney who did not boast previous experience as a prosecutor, Philadelphians participated in that ‘off –year’ primary election in rates higher than the voter turnouts registered in similar elections during the past dozen years.
The resounding DA win by respected civil rights attorney Larry Krasner in the Democratic Party primary election evidences public support for substantive changes in how Philadelphia’s District Attorneys Office operates. Prosecutors too often sacrifice their duty to justice just to advance their careers through securing convictions – warranted or not.
The increased voter participation in the 2017 Philadelphia primary election, while an improvement, does not deserve applause. A background of this increased voter participation is the fact that most Philadelphians still do not discharge their civic duty to vote.
There is arguable merit in criticizing Philadelphians, and too many other Americans, for not voting, particularly when citizens in countries like Somalia brave raging warfare to cast their votes. Dodging Election Day dangers in war zones is far different from Philadelphia where Election Day deprivations are mainly trifles like rain.
However, politicians and pundits give too little attention to the fact that too many people in Philadelphia do not vote not from a disregard of civic duty but from a conscious decision not to engage in a process that has consistently failed to improve their quality of life.
Many folks frankly do not see any benefits from voting.
Take Stop-&Frisk, the trumpeted crime deterring police practice that both disproportionately targets non-whites and fails its stated purpose to remove weapons from the hands of criminals. The Philadelphia Police Department’s own data conclusively document the recovery of few guns during the thousands upon thousands of insulting street detentions conducted under Stop-&-Frisk.
Philadelphia’s current (under indictment) DA, like his predecessors in that office, has aided and abetted Stop-&-Frisk by backing prosecutions from arrests that reek with the taint of disreputable and/or discriminatory law enforcement by police.
In October 1968 noted attorney Austin Norris authored an analysis that blasted “Stop-&-Frisk” as racially prejudicial. Norris scored Stop-&-Frisk for its predominance in “ghettoes” – a practice evident today. Norris’ analysis cited an early 1950s University of Pennsylvania law review article documenting unlawful law enforcement practices in Philadelphia.
Current Philadelphia Mayor James Kenney received a lot of votes based on his campaign pledge to end Stop-&-Frisk…a promise Kenney broke once in office. Kenney’s predecessor, Michael Nutter, received votes on the belief that he would implement fairer law enforcement. Yet, Nutter escalated Stop-&-Frisk and even assailed the independent agency that monitors abusive policing that he created as a City Councilman.
Until elected officials practice policies that benefit regular folks – not just the wealthy – voter participation will remain embarrassingly low.