Politics: Groups Work to Register Philadelphia Voters Ahead of Election

Perhaps no one in Philadelphia has Oct. 11 marked on their calendar more than Gregory Irving.

The voter registration deadline is one of many that Irving has faced over nearly 29 years working in the city’s Voting Registration Office. But this year is a bit different.

For many Americans, the Nov. 8 election featuring candidates Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump is one of the most divisive in recent memory. And the city has seen a spike in voter applications, said Irving.

“It’s a presidential election, which gets everyone interested,” he said. “It’s amazing how people seem to be more interested in the presidential than they do the local elections such as when (City) Council (members are) running, or mayor.”

For Irving, it’s all about getting people – especially young people – registered.

According to Irving, he’s already gotten more than 162,000 new Philadelphia voters registered from mail-in applications, and more than 120,000 new city voters from online applications run through PennDOT. About 16,000 of those paper applications came in Oct. 3 alone.

Staff in the city’s Voting Registration Office get busy after Labor Day and stay busy until Election Day.

Data from the City Commissioners’ Office shows registration has increased since last year.

Total registration of voters for the 2015 general election was 1,000,481, while registration for the 2016 primary election reached 1,028,000. That number will increase for the 2016 general election.

“When you see someone at the shopping mall or at the subway station and they’re trying to get you to register to vote, all those forms they have to turn into our office, and we process so that we can make you a voter,” said Irving.

He’s not the only one registering voters throughout Philadelphia.

Natalie Sowinski, regional field director of NextGen Climate PA, a group advocating for climate change legislation, is just one of many others. She has been deeply involved in registering voters and works for one of the many grassroots organizations submitting registration forms to Irving’s office.


NextGen PA have been out across the city, registering Philadelphians to vote. Courtney Summers, a Philadelphia college student, signs up to vote in this year's election.
Courtney Summers, a Philadelphia college student, signs up to vote in this year’s election.

“Our organization is out in a lot of the key swing states to try to really make a big push for the millennial vote,” said Sowinski. “Especially in a swing state, your vote matters a lot more here in Pennsylvania than it does in New York or Vermont.”

Registering to vote has never been as convenient as it is now, as interested voters can mail in forms, register online or even register in person at Irving’s office on Columbus Boulevard.

“You should see the line here on Oct. 11,” said Irving, chuckling and motioning to the lobby area.


Voting Registration slips wait to be processed at the Voting Registration Office off Columbus Boulevard. More than 164,000 have already been processed.
Voting registration applications wait to be processed.

Moments after a curious voter asked him about voting specifics on Election Day, Irving admitted there is still often confusion surrounding dates when it comes to elections.

However, the city has also taken steps in an effort to alleviate some of that confusion.

As part of an effort to provide information to voters who need it, the City Commissioners’ Office is encouraging Philadelphians to text “PA” in a message to “2Vote.” By sending that message, voters will receive a link they can click that provides access to the online voter registration application, voter status, a polling place locator and link to contacts for county offices.

Sowinski hopes younger voters will take their civic responsibility seriously.

“A lot of millennials don’t realize the importance of voting,” she said. “People get in this mode of thinking where they just say, ‘Oh, I’m just one vote, what is my vote going to do?’”



– Text, images and video by Taggart Houck

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