It is finally spring (really summer last week, with temps in the 90s) and another election rolls around. I’ll be voting in the Democratic primary in 8 days. This is kind of a big deal here in South Philly, since whoever wins the primary basically has the general election locked up, with the 8-1 Democratic registration advantage in the city. This itself is a problem, since Republicans get no representation and Democrats usually have few choices amidst entrenched incumbents backed by the party machine.
Despite news reports of highly energized and mobilized Democratic voters, eager to cast a symbolic blow against Trump and retake the Congress, I see little evidence of this in my neighborhood. The Governor, US Senator and my state representative are running unopposed. The one exception is the newly created 5th Congressional District where I reside. Here, with an open seat after long time incumbent Rep. Bob Brady stepped down amid scandal, there are an incredible 13 (!) candidates running, according to the City Commissioners sample ballot. Yet you wouldn’t know this unless you dug it up on the web.
Only two candidates, Rich Lazer and Molly Sheehan, have posted signs along major roads and medians (we don’t have lawns in South Philly). Only one, a young Chinese American woman named Lindy Li, has sent me any mailers. There was a candidates’ night at South Philly High last week, but I only found out about it in the Inquirer after it occurred. I have heard no conversations about the race in my normal travels around the neighborhood. I’m thinking about reinstalling my landline so I can at least get robo calls again on my answering machine!
If past trends continue, and I see no reason they won’t, only about 20-25% of registered voters will show up at the primary. With 13 candidates (or 6-8, no matter) the winner will be elected by only a fraction of the district’s voters. They will cruise to victory in an uncompetitive general election, then use the advantages of incumbency and the party machine to stay in office as long as they please, even for decades. Is this any way to run a “representative” democracy?
No wonder people feel ignored and reach for phony populists who promise to bring their jobs back to dying industries in crumbling towns. It’s a two edged sword – people would be better represented if they voted and engaged in the system more often, yet they feel their vote doesn’t matter in a “rigged” system structured to primarily serve incumbents and the special interests that keep them in office. In a democracy as well as the marketplace, you get what you pay for, in money or votes. If you’re not rich, vote!