Mon. May 20th, 2024

How one Pennsylvania official is getting creative to combat voter apathy

By 37ci3 Apr18,2024

NORRISTOWN, Pa. Neil Makhija is on a mission.

As the county commissioner in charge of elections in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, he is determined to get as many people to the polls as possible in November. That’s a big part of why he’s campaigning for the job.

“I’m probably one of the first people to run for county commissioner in Pennsylvania because of my role in managing elections,” said Makhija, 37, a Democrat who took office in January and previously taught election law at the University of Pennsylvania. .

“When this seat opened up, I thought it was a place where we could make a difference, protect voting rights and really set a standard in Pennsylvania and for the country,” she said.

But in order to get more people to vote, Mahija realized that she had to be creative.

That’s why on a Thursday in April, Maxija gathered 16 Montgomery County voters at the county commissioner’s office to present leather certificates honoring their lifelong civic duty.

It was the first Montgomery County Voter Hall of Fame.

After official county business was over, Makhija and his two fellow commissioners stood in front of the room’s large wooden table to greet dignitaries found by scanning county and state election records for voters who voted in the last 50 generals. elections. Makhija asked how long they had been voting in the room. The oldest laureate has been voting since 1956.

“Anyone beat 1956? It’s like an auction,” Mahija joked.

The awardees posed in front of the room with the commissioners and their new certificates as a photographer captured the moment.

The mood was festive, but the mission behind the ceremony was serious.

Central to Maxija’s efforts is understanding what makes people like award winners Alan and Rosemary Hinkle tick. The couple have voted in every election since 1972, when Alan was 21 and Rosemary was 18.

“I think it’s really important that in the midst of everything that’s going on in politics, when people are cynical or disillusioned, that we recognize people who are so committed to the system,” he said.

She said she hopes initiatives like the Hall of Fame will not only inspire other voters to get involved, but also inspire her to find new ways to make voting more accessible. According to an NBC News poll going back to 2008, polling enthusiasm for presidential elections is at an all-time low.

Pennsylvania captured the White House for Joe Biden in 2020 — thanks in large part to places like Montgomery County, a white, highly educated, affluent suburb of Philadelphia that is blue. Biden was able to expand his margin of victory in the counties surrounding Philadelphia – Montgomery, Bucks, Chester and Delaware – by more than 100,000 votes over Democrat Hillary Clinton’s 2016 victory, replacing former President Donald Trump’s gains in the state’s smaller counties.

“We are the most passionate voters in the entire country,” Maxija said. “I think reminding people in our communities that we set the direction of the country will make a difference.”

Maxija is not only fighting against the lack of enthusiasm for the two candidates; he also fights misinformation about the entire election system, as do many other election workers across the country.

Trump has repeatedly claimed, without evidence, that mail-in voting is a vehicle for widespread voter fraud. The former president also continues to push the baseless theory that the 2020 election was stolen from him.

Trump said at a rally in Schnecksville, Pennsylvania, last weekend: “When you see them betraying you, you go out there and start screaming. “Radical left Democrats rigged the 2020 presidential election, and we won’t let them rig the 2024 presidential election.”

Mahija said allegations such as these are “inherently fear-mongering and cynicism” and he worries it will cause voters of both parties to go to the polls in November.

“When you challenge the whole system, people will rethink their participation,” he said.

Still, Mahija expects the Republican nominee to continue to cast doubt on the reliability of mail-in ballots, despite efforts by local GOP officials to embrace mail-in and early voting to match Democratic preferences in recent years.

To that end, he is trying to build confidence in an early voting system that would span party lines. It aims to literally meet with voters by expanding polling satellite offices for people who need their ballots “cured” — a process that allows voters to correct mail-in ballots with technical issues, such as an incorrect date or missing signature. otherwise, the voting day cannot be counted. Makjiha also hopes to set up a mobile unit that will travel around the county to help people correct mistakes they make on their mail-in ballots.

“Instead of throwing away their ballots, we’re going to try to help voters correct the ballots that nearly 2,000 had technical errors in the last two weeks of the election,” he said.

In Pennsylvania on the battlefield, every one of those votes will count – as the Montgomery County Hall of Fame inductees know all too well.

The Hinkels aren’t sure which way they’ll vote yet — but they say they’ve “absolutely” decided on one thing: They’ll be on the ballot in 2024.

“If you don’t want other people to make decisions for you,” said Rosemary Hinkle, “then you have to get involved.”

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By 37ci3

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