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30 Mar 2024

One stop voting

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March 30, 2024 Category: Local Posted by:

Through the City Commissioner’s new satellite offices, Philadelphia’s voters will be able to get everything they need to exercise their franchise without having to leave their neighborhoods.

By Denise Clay-Murray

Next month, Pennsylvanians will head to the polls to cast their ballots in the April 23 primary election.

Because voter turnout in Philadelphia often determines who wins or loses an election in Pennsylvania, making sure that voters can exercise their franchise is important. But sometimes it’s hard for city residents to get downtown to City Hall to make sure that their voting paperwork is up to date.

But what if you could do things like register to vote, get a mail-in ballot, and even turn that ballot in without having to leave your neighborhood?

That’s the idea behind the 10 new Election Satellite Centers that the City Commissioners office will be opening soon. The offices, the first of which will be in West Philadelphia, will provide voters with a one-stop shopping experience designed to get voters to the polls, said Omar Sabir, chair of the City Commissioners.

The SUN spoke with Sabir about the satellite offices, what they’ll offer for clients, and how Philadelphians can access them. He’ll also talk about becoming the new chair of the commissioners, what that means to him, and why it’s important to make sure your voice is heard in the April primary.

SUN: Thank you for taking the time to speak with us, Commissioner Sabir. Because this is an election year and all eyes will be on Pennsylvania, Philadelphians must have all they need to vote. Tell me about the satellite centers, what they‘ll contain and how you can access them.
OS:
It was always one of my campaign promises. This is the first fulfillment of that promise. In the grand scheme of things, we would like for the offices to allow you to do all of the same duties that you’re able to do in Center City. But we’re going to start off with somewhat limited services. Eventually, you’ll be able to do everything you can do at City Hall in your own neighborhood.

SUN: What services will you be offering at first and where is the first Satellite Office going to be?
OS:
You’ll be able to apply for your voter registration and vote by mail forms. We’ll be open seven days a week during peak periods and we’ll be working additional hours when it’s not a peak period. We’re going to be open all year long, so this won’t just be something that we’re doing just for the presidential race. We’re going to be open all year long.

By being in the neighborhoods, we’re also going to be able to break down a lot of mistruths because there’s a lot of disinformation that’s currently in our community right now about elections. Elections aren’t safe. They’re not secure. There’s something nefarious going on with our elected offices. [The satellite offices] are going to make it a lot easier for people in the neighborhood to talk to their election administrators. So, there’ll be a lot of people in the community having conversations with officials about the election process.

We had 17 satellite locations open in 2020 and we were able to use schools and libraries because they were closed during the pandemic. But now, since the pandemic has subsided and everything has opened back up again, we didn’t really have a location. So, now we’re working with the Department of Public Property.

SUN: You said that during the COVID shutdown, there were offices similar to the satellite offices in school buildings. For obvious reasons, you can’t do that now. So where will people be able to find these offices, and do you know what the hours will be for them?
OS:
Sure. There’ll be in shopping malls or a nice commercial corridor, where there’s foot traffic, and there is access to public transportation. The flagship location will be at 4029 Market Street. It’s a popular area that’s close to [the University of Pennsylvania and Drexel University], and it’s also close to Mantua and West Philadelphia. So, we’re definitely excited about that. There will eventually be offices in each Councilmanic district.

SUN: One of the things that people focus on when Philadelphia has elections, particularly municipal ones, is voter turnout, or the lack thereof. Do you think that accessing certain voting points in your neighborhood will increase voter turnout?
OS:
I think that this can help turnout increase. But who is running also matters here in Philadelphia. We have a lot of people who run for office here that go unchallenged. If the person running is a household name and doesn’t have a challenger, there’s no sense of urgency to vote.

SUN: Before I end this interview, I’d like to congratulate you on becoming the new chair of the City Commissioners. Was running for this position something you wanted to do initially?
OS:
No, no, no. Absolutely not.

SUN: What has it been like so far?
OS:
It’s been a lot more meetings. But it’s definitely been a rewarding experience and to be the second African American elected to the pose is a great achievement. And I’d like to thank the board for entrusting me with this responsibility.

SUN: Well, thank you so much for your time, Commissioner. When is the grand opening for the first satellite center?
OS:
It’s going to open on April 2. Prior to the opening, there will be a tour of the facility. So, we definitely encourage everyone to attend.
The Philadelphia City Commissioners first satellite office will be opened on Tuesday, April 2 at 9 a.m.

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