On Nov. 7, Democrats came out victorious as Brian Zidek and Kevin Madden won two seats on the Delaware County Council. This was the first time in over 30 years that Democrats have secured seats on the Council, which has historically been Republican dominated. Many community members were involved in helping campaign for the Democrat candidates as signs that read “Zidek Madden Vote Nov 7th: Bring Sanity Back” were dispersed throughout the County. The Swarthmore College Democrats parallelled these efforts by campaigning on campus to students; their efforts were rewarded when Swarthmore College student voter turnout was the highest ever for a local election.
Taylor Morgan ’19, president of Swat Dems, was approached by the County Democrats and candidates after their win and thanked for the student turnout.
“I heard from the people at the polling place, and also at a victory party at the Inn later that night, from the County Democrats and the candidates, that this year was the most significant turnout of Swarthmore students for local elections. All the candidates came up to me at the victory party that night and were thrilled at the engagement and involvement of Swarthmore students canvassing, voting, and in other ways supporting their candidacy,” said Morgan.
Swat Dems’ efforts started way before election day and extended past the college campus. According to Morgan, the organization’s strategy was to provide information about the election, both about the campaigns of the different candidates, and on the logistics of the voting process, in order to actually help students to go out and vote on Nov. 7.
Before the election, Swat Dems worked to enable students not only to vote, but also be involved in the campaigning process.
“I brought in two canvassing trainers to campus and hosted about 19 students who got trained to do paid canvassing. Secondly, we had a ‘Get Out the Vote’ operation which consisted of phone banking; canvassing around campus; dorm storming, which consisted of putting voter day information under the doors; tabling in Sharples to sign people up to drive shuttles; and to volunteer for campaigns,” said Morgan.
On the day of the election, Swat Dems were joined by the Sunrise Group and the Swarthmore Conservative Society to coordinate efforts to get people out to vote. President of Swat Conservatives Gilbert Guerra ’19 said that his group abstained from endorsing specific candidates but still believed it was important to get out and vote.
“We joined in the Get Out the Vote effort by advertising it on our social media accounts and by tabling on the day of the election,” said Guerra.
Swat Dems also tried to incentivize students to go vote through food trucks.
“I researched two Black-owned businesses in the area, and I found two food trucks with the help of Andy Rosen, who is the chair of Swarthmore’s Farmer’s Market called Plum Pit Bistro and Catering, and The Sweetest Rose Cupcake Company. So we incentivized students to go vote through food catering. We encouraged students to get on the volunteer shuttles behind the food trucks before or after they were getting their food. And I think this really channeled a lot of students to get in the car and go down the street to vote,” said Morgan.
Morgan was also able to get community members to volunteer as drivers through connections from previous local campaign work.
“I was able to secure 17 local drivers who functioned as volunteer shuttles throughout the day, who used their personal time and vehicles to just drive Swarthmore students back and forth from the polling places,” said Morgan.
Morgan was hesitant to call the Democrats gaining seats a victory but is still optimistic about the future.
“I’m hesitant to call it a win because that implies that the challenge leading up to Tuesday is over, but on the contrary it has just begun. Delaware County, the college, and the community members have been facing complete obstruction and this is due to the Republican Machine. But now, we actually have people who recognize a lot of community needs and crises that are happening locally, that are at the table, and they can at least impart change that has for so long been obstructed. So to me, the ‘win’ means that there is a more likely chance that people will be able to access these changes, not necessarily that these changes will come,” said Morgan.
Morgan described the ‘Republican machine’ as a product of gerrymandering, which is the manipulation of district boundaries to provide advantage to one political party.
“Our district is the most gerrymandered district in the country. This is largely due to the regime of Republican machine in Delaware county. In college courses, Delaware County is held up as an example of what gerrymandering is and the dangers of it. And so the people that were elected, named Brian Zidek and Kevin Madden, have come out publicly against gerrymandering and have actually supported legislation that works at dismantling it. Also, Delaware County has the only for-profit prison in the state of Pennsylvania, and this is due to [Republican backing over the years],” said Morgan.
Peter Foggo ’21, a Democrat, decided to partake in local politics because of this Republican machine that Morgan described.
“I decided to participate in the local elections mainly because Delaware County has historically been controlled by Republican officials, but after the outrage following the most recent presidential election, I think that a lot of people in Delaware County realized that change was not only needed, but a realistic goal,” said Foggo.
Yasmeen Namazie ’19 echoed the importance of local politics bringing change to greater political platforms.
“I went out and voted because I understand the significance of local elections and their power in informing federal policy outcomes. After the Trump election, the Republican stronghold in the Senate and House has created a shortage in Democratic influence. As a Democrat, I want Democrats in local leadership to regain the House in 2018 and reverse the draconian policies implemented by the Trump administration: reinstate DACA, fund Planned Parenthood, repeal the travel ban, etc,” said Namazie.
Morgan hopes that this recent success will motivate students to get more involved in future democratic processes.
“To the group as a whole, I think that precisely because there was such a clear link between student engagement and victory, maybe students will be more likely to be involved in the future. And maybe, exactly this will kind of change the way students see the significance and effect of local politics,” said Morgan.