Singer: If the Democratic machine tried to shut down elections they probably could. It’s Democratic Committee people who do the lion’s share of outreach that needs to happen to make elections happen.
Schmidt: There were 900 election boards around the city where all five people were Democrats. In spring and fall 2010 we filled about 250 of those boards by recruiting Republicans. Of those 5 seats [per board], two are guaranteed to the Republican party. It’s to make sure things are done fairly. You really don’t have that when they are all one party.
Staten: I think that the city commissioners have to simply run the office in accordance with the rules and regulations and strictly adhere to that.
What about the PICA and Committee of Seventy studies recommending major reforms to the Commission?
Singer: I think that there are a lot of different ways that elections are run across this country. It’s clear that there are other models that work. Most places do it differently.
Schmidt: This agency is going to reform or go the way of the BRT. They should be embracing reform rather than fighting it tooth and nail. Because by fighting it, they’re going to ensure the end of this office as they currently know it. If they embrace reform, or at least adopt some of the recommendations, I think you take away a lot of the ammunition for abolishing these offices. But by just saying no, no, no they’ve got to bend or they’re gonna break.
Staten: I think the recommendations are a really good reasonable estimation. I agree with quite a few of them. I talk about updating the website, and that doesn’t require much. A lot of people communicate via social networks. We want to make sure the City Commissioners’ Office is in the midst of all that.
Should the elected Commission positions be abolished in favor of appointments?
Singer: Things are never as simple as some people like to say they are. When you have an office like that that’s important, it touches a lot of people. Any kind of change you make is a change for a lot of people. Unless you’re careful and smart about it you can do damage.
Schmidt: It’s the same problem you have with judges, or the city controller or any kind of office that revolves around fairness. They’re either elected or someone’s going to appoint them. If that someone is the mayor, that’s a concern also. From the perspective of the minority party, that’s an even bigger problem.
Staten: No. The City Commissioner’ office in my opinion is one of the most important offices, and a well-needed office. It just means we need to reevaluate the way some of the things are done and make sure they’re implemented.
Singer: The image of that office is part of the image of Philadelphia. People are like, “that’s the way it is, that’s Philadelphia.” We’re the birthplace of democracy, for crying out loud. People need a nonpartisan source of good information about elections and good emotional messages about elections and that’s what the City Commissioner’s Office ought to be doing.
Schmidt: There’s no interest [among the current commissioners] in rationalizing this election process. It’s been done the same way since the 60s. It’s set up geographically located where Philadelphia’s population was in the 60s. Consequently you have an inefficient and ineffective system.
Staten: We have to take a look at all of our potential voters. We should continually look at increasing [voting numbers] so it’s something that gets better and better each time. We should also look at individuals who are in prison and are now eligible to vote. They may not know. They’re coming back out eventually so we want to make sure they know their rights.
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