By Jason Villemez
PHILADELPHIA — According to a study by UCLA’s Williams Institute, twenty-percent of LGBTQ adults in the U.S. are not registered to vote. That amounts to roughly 3 million unregistered LGBTQ people, including 54-thousand in Philadelphia and its surrounding region. In the 2016 election, President Trump won Pennsylvania by 44-thousand votes.
With that in mind, Philadelphia-based community organizers Jason Evans and Jonathan Lovitz have launched a non-partisan initiative to bring one-click, contact-free voter information to the Philadelphia region. Lovitz is a senior vice president at the National LGBT Chamber of Commerce and Evans is vice president at the Independence Business Alliance.
The new resource, PhillyVoting.org, compiles tools for voter registration, requesting mail-in ballots, information on polling locations and critical dates, and get out the vote signs to print and post on social media. The website is geared towards Pennsylvania, Delaware, and New Jersey residents, though residents of any state can find voter registration information from the site.
To spread awareness during this time of quarantining and self-isolation, Evans and Lovitz have utilized QR code technology to immediately connect residents to PhillyVoting.org resources using any smartphone, tablet, or computer.
QR codes allow people to use their smartphone’s camera to scan the code and immediately find information, eliminating the need for paper flyers or materials that could be touched by multiple people. Posters with QR codes are often put in the windows of local businesses.
“The 2020 election is perhaps the most important of our lives and nothing — not even a pandemic — can stop us from doing our duty as citizens,” Lovitz said. “If you can scan a QR code menu to safely support a local restaurant, you can scan a QR code voter registration form to safely save our Democracy.”
Lovitz said that the initiative began when neighbors contacted him and others about the lack of get out the vote resources in Philadelphia.
Plans to promote the initiative throughout the region are underway, with a primary focus on engaging Black and LGBTQ+ voters. This weekend a group of volunteers passed out posters and other materials to businesses in Center City, including the gayborhood and South Street corridor, and they helped over a dozen people register people to vote. Lovitz told the Philadelphia Gay News that they would continue to help spread awareness in the coming weeks.
In addition to their work in Center City, PhillyVoting.org staff will also work with Black business owners in West Philadelphia to share voting and election information.
“Philadelphia’s greatest strengths are its diversity and its commitment to helping one another,” Lovitz told PGN. “It’s been incredibly heartening to work with community organizers focused on Black and LGBTQ+ voter engagement this cycle who are helping us get these digital resources to community centers, political clubs, schools, and businesses.”
QR codes are one of many ways that organizations like PhillyVoting are approaching efforts to get out the vote amidst a truly unique election year.
“Not only are we faced with a global pandemic, but also navigating the election process of how, when, and where we can vote as this information is updated almost daily,” Evans said. “We are doing our part to ensure every vote is counted and, most importantly, no one is denied their right to access voting.”
“Our goal is to reach every voter in and around Philadelphia who has any questions about this coming election. Judging by the turnout numbers in recent years, we have work to do,” Lovitz said. “There were over 100,000 unregistered LGBTQ+ voters in Pennsylvania alone that did not make their voice heard in 2016. We cannot allow that to happen in 2020.”