Summer is a slow season in City Hall. City Council is not in session. Fewer people bother to visit the Registrar of Deeds. And I like to think that the young couples are at the beach instead of wandering the hallways looking for the Marriage License office.
It’s a great time for trying new things. So we took our office on the road one day each week, visiting neighborhood streets with lots of stores to ask local businesses to help promote voting. There were lots of surprises.
The first surprise was how welcoming the businesses were. We brought registration forms and absentee ballot request forms (it’s never too early to request an absentee ballot for the next election). We asked the businesses to take a few, and to let us know when they ran out. We expected that we would have to sell the idea: good schools, clean streets and low crime are good for neighborhood businesses, and high voter turnout attracts the kind of resources that lead to good schools, clean streets and low crime. Probably we shouldn’t have been surprised by how thoughtful the business owners and managers were -- running a successful small business isn’t easy. But we were.
Another surprise was how difficult it was to predict which businesses would jump enthusiastically on board, having already realized the importance of voting. My staff and I hesitated at the door of the tattoo and piercing parlor on Kensington Avenue. But the tattoo parlor, along with a check-cashing place in Germantown, have moved more registration forms than any other stores.
The number of languages was surprising: in one day we heard English and Spanish, of course, but also Vietnamese, Korean, Chinese and a few others. And there were a variety of stores with a variety of merchandise. Halal fish, bright solid-yellow sports shoes, miracle candles. And do I dare mention the jewelry store with no jewelry on display, where the staff and clientele seemed quite anxious for us official-looking types to leave?
On reflection, keeping voter registration forms and absentee ballot request forms in stores makes sense. Forms used to be available at the library, but hours are restricted now. And stalwart citizens used to sit out at the corner on nice days and register neighbors, but fear of crime deters them in many parts of Philadelphia. It would be wonderful to see businesses all over stocking forms, not to mention ballot information and announcements of elections.
This summer project has opened up a lot of possibilities, and raises an important question: where should I put that “SuperVoter” tattoo?