Cool Things Wit Cool People is a monthly advice column by Akeem Dixon focusing on community development. To ask a question, email email@example.com, or reach out @akeemdixon.
With the impending election for Philly’s district attorney and a handful of judges, let’s chat politics with Philadelphia 3.0.
The progressive political organization backs “independent-minded” candidates at the local level and pushes for reform in City Hall. Director of Engagement Jon Geeting stepped in to help answer a few Politics 101 questions, including why you should bother voting — which, in a city that only saw 17 percent of its registered voters turn out for the primary this past spring, is still a question worth asking.
Question #1: In Pennsylvania, are you allowed to vote if you’ve been convicted of a felony?
Yes! There’s a lot of misinformation out there about this, but anyone with a criminal record can vote in Pennsylvania after they’ve been released from prison. Only people who are currently in prison aren’t allowed to vote.
— Jon Geeting
If you are a returning citizen struggling with questions like this, Hakim ‘Ali, the board secretary and coordinator of North Philadelphia-based Reconstruction, Inc. suggested reaching out to his organization, which has a mission to “effect social change by forging individuals that were formerly incarcerated into an organized community of leaders working together to transform the criminal justice system, their communities and themselves.” Find the organization online or by calling 215-223-8180.
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— Akeem Dixon
Question #2: I’m a Democrat and it seems like the Democratic candidates are going to win. Why should I still vote?
Voting twice a year, every year, is good for you, and good for city politics, but there are also selfish reasons to do it. Politicians pay more attention to super-voters who vote every single election, and if you show up as one in the state’s voter file, they’ll care more about what you have to say when they’re up for election. And in low-turnout years, your individual vote counts for more than it does in a big high-turnout presidential year. Help yourself to an extra-large slice of democracy!
Also, while the local races for controller and D.A. seem overwhelmingly likely to go to the Democrats, there are some competitive statewide races for Superior Court, Commonwealth Court, and the state Supreme Court. And for the judicial races, the Philadelphia Bar Association has a really rigorous candidate vetting process for these races, and it has a list of its recommended candidates that you can download and take into the voting booth with you. And the Committee of Seventy has a very thorough guide to everything that’s on the ballot Tuesday.
— Jon Geeting
Question #3: What’s the deal with the two ballot questions?
There are two ballot questions voters will decide on Tuesday. One is a city ballot question, that asks voters to approve a city bond for $172 million, to fund capital projects related to transit, streets and sanitation, municipal buildings, parks, recreation, museums, and economic and community development. The funding breaks down like this:
- Transit: $4,767,309
- Streets and sanitation: $23,997,918
- Municipal buildings: $95,666,840
- Parks, recreation and museums: $32,325,872
- Economic and community development: $15,242,061
The second ballot measure would amend the state Constitution to allow local school board, counties and municipalities to exempt up to 100 percent of the assessed value of each primary residence in their jurisdiction from real estate taxes. The upshot would be that local governments would be able to drastically reduce or even eliminate property taxes if they choose to do so.
Local taxing bodies have been able to exclude up to 50 percent of the median assessed value of homes since 1997, but Committee of Seventy points out that few have done this. If this ballot question passes, it is isn’t the end of the debate by any stretch. The state legislature would need to pass a bill with the same language, and then local governments would vote individually on whether to do it.
— Jon Geeting
Have more Qs about community development in Philadelphia? Send them to firstname.lastname@example.org, or reach out on Twitter @akeemdixon.