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A Guide to Local Politics for Non-Pennsylvanians

As a first-year out-of-state student, the November 3 election will be my first exposure to Pennsylvania politics. And as someone who is interested in politics, I wanted to figure out what the local political situation is like here and find out why, as a non-Pennsylvanian, I should pay attention to the down-ballot candidates.

While county and township elections are held in off years and as such, will not be on the ballot on November 3, there are still key state executive and legislative positions up for election. To get a better sense of the political situation, I reached out to the Haverford College Democrats and spoke to Natasha Bansal ’23.

Levi Raskin: Why should people like me, who are not from Philadelphia but are voting here, care about down-ballot candidates?

Natasha Bansal: We have a tendency to only focus on the big one, but in general, local politics really do shape [the] lives of people who live in those areas. It is an important time in local politics, as we are becoming a very blue county. Last year’s election was historic as lots of seats went to Democratic candidates, seats which had been held by Republicans since the Civil War.

LR: What contributed to that Democratic wave?

NB: Delaware County gets taxed relatively higher than surrounding areas without receiving a proportional influx of services. Democratic candidates were able to harness those frustrations into a resounding blue wave where we saw three Democratic candidates elected to the county council.

LR: With that historic election in mind, what role did Haverford College play in the lead up to the 2019 election, and how are students campaigning this year?

NB: The Haverford College Democrats had a roundtable where local politicians came and talked to us about local politics. In addition, there were lots of opportunities to organize canvassing trips with students. This year, due to COVID-19, there is no face-to-face political campaigning, but the Democrats are relying heavily on phone banking and texting for outreach.

LR: What is your message for out-of-state students to do for this election?

NB: First thing is to immediately register to be a voter in Pennsylvania if [you’re] coming from a state that is not massively consequential. It looks like Biden is leading Pennsylvania, but by a small amount. Trump won Pennsylvania in 2016 by 44,000 votes and with all the issues surrounding mail-in ballots, the margins this election are dangerously close.

The Pennsylvania mail-in process is extremely confusing, which was demonstrated during the Delaware County primary this spring, where the county was not able to process the vast amounts of applications. I am hoping and guessing that the county has increased the staff to help out with the new ballot requests, but we do have a polling place here on campus, so it is relatively easy to vote in person.

If you vote by mail, Pennsylvania has something called a naked ballot, where ballots can be discounted if you do not put your ballot in two different envelopes, so please be aware of that. Pay attention to local offices and when they release a full ballot, we can look at before voting [and] do research on the candidates. Keep the best interests of the community at heart.

In addition to speaking with Natasha, I also reached out to a local politician, Andy Lewis, who is an independent Haverford Township commissioner, for his thoughts both on the election in general and also on how Haverford College and its students can be involved with both the election and more local action. 

Levi Raskin: With an eye towards local politics, what are your thoughts on this election?

Andy Lewis: We saw people come out in 2017 and 2019 to support Democrats for County Council. [Trump’s] going to get hammered in Philadelphia and the four suburban counties. There is not a lot of complacency this election; people are exhausted and have had enough of his antics, so I hope they do come out. We need to hit the reset button.

Public service is a great sacrifice if you are in it for the right reasons, and I do not think a lot of our public servants are in it for the right reasons. Their priority is to get reelected at all costs. We see that every day and in almost every race.

LR: What advice do you have for college students who are interested in politics, considering the frustrations you mentioned?

AL: My job as township commissioner and local politics generally will not necessarily impact your life as a college student, since you do not have to worry about getting trash picked up, zoning, or issues with neighbors. For that reason, though, we have much more impact on people’s lives than the federal level. Day to day politics is really important and we have a good board.

And specifically relating to Haverford, last year I was here with [State] Representative [Greg] Vitali for an environmental forum. We also got a Haverford student involved with an environmental advisory committee, as well as working with the school proper to improve pedestrian crossings and other projects. While I did not go to Haverford, my family has a long history of attending Haverford. The Township has a great relationship to the school and is very open to working with students who are interested in local politics.

Besides the presidential election, the Pennsylvania Attorney General (an elected office crucial to addressing issues such as policing), Auditor General, and Treasurer are all on the ballot this November. In addition, students will vote on races for the State Senate and the State House of Representatives—notable because Democrats are hoping to flip both chambers of the State Legislature.

At the federal level, there is also an election for our Congressional Representative with Mary Gay Scanlon (D), first elected two years ago, running against Dasha Pruett (R). More information can be found about both your specific ballot and the candidates on it at the voting guide by the Philadelphia Inquirer.

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