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WEST CHESTER — If the 15 people gathered in the West Chester Borough Council chambers left with one message Monday morning, it was that a person’s vote is their voice and it’s imperative to make sure people realize that and take advantage in the upcoming and future elections.
A two-hour roundtable discussion held Monday as part of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, focused on empowering women through voting or political office. The event was presented by St. Paul’s Baptist Church in West Chester in partnership with the League of Women Voters of Chester County and the Chester County Community Collaborative.
The League is a nonpartisan political organization which doesn’t support or oppose parties or candidates, but is an activist organization which tries to influence public policy on issues and encourages informed and active participation in the government.
“It is a right (to vote) – it’s not a privilege,” said Susan Carty, president of the league. “We also don’t believe, particularly, in making people feel guilty that they haven’t voted or if they’re not voting because if you do that to someone, or even if they feel you are implying that they haven’t done the right thing, they probably won’t do the right thing or they won’t act.”
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Carty said, historically, that seems to be the case with many organizations which support voting.
A map circulating the group showed that in Chester County, there are 13,000 unmarried women who either are eligible to vote and are not registered or are registered and not doing anything with it.
“The number for women in Chester County just made me want to hit my head on the table,” Carty said. “There are so many people who have a voice and are not heard … To do something effectively, we have to take that information, know it and act on it and find ways to reach out and ways that might engage. We don’t have the magic formula or answer to do it, but if we don’t talk about what to do, we can be assured nothing can change.”
As the focus of the discussion, the roundtable brought in a group of individuals – mostly women, but a couple of men as well – to look at the different ways they can take it upon themselves to get people interested in voting and elections, especially the women of the county.
In attendance were some well-known faces in the area, including Alice Hammond, the political action chair of the West Chester NAACP; Carolyn Comitta, the mayor of West Chester; Michelle Kichline and Kathi Cozzone, both county commissioners; and a representative each from the Chester County Democratic Committee and the West Goshen GOP.
“We have seen movement in modernization with access to registration,” Carty said. “We now have online registration, which is critical step No. 1. Our largest voting block coming for this election is 18 to 29 year olds. With round numbers, 47 percent of them vote.”
With the fact that the younger generation’s lives have been taken over by social media, that became a common topic brought up by many, coming up with ideas of taking advantage of sites such as Instagram or Snapchat to advertise to get out and vote or to register online.
Targeting the younger voters, Comitta brought up what could be a perfect starting point to get things moving with the use of the new West Chester University Center for Community Solutions.
“These young people live, eat and sleep social media and the Center for Community Solutions is now the No. 1 connector of community needs to university resources,” Comitta said. “This could be really exciting. That might really be a practical way to launch this.”
Also a concern brought up in the roundtable was the significant lack of women holding a political position throughout the state, from the local level on up, and even in township committees.
“Speaking as a woman who wanted to run for office 11 years ago, against my better judgment, we have to be recruited,” Comitta said. “I’ll thank Bill Scott for that. He recruited and wouldn’t take no for an answer and basically said, ‘We need you.’
“I don’t know how it is for men, but I don’t know many women who are sitting around thinking, ‘I think I’m going to run for public office.’ That process of reaching out and saying we need you to run is a terrifying thing.” Cozzone agreed, saying she also was recruited to run.
What the roundtable did leave with, outside of higher spirits after a hearty discussions, is that a strategic plan for both getting people registered and voting and getting women into political positions are needed.
“We’re very, very behind and we’re not considered, what I would say, a voter-friendly state at all,” Carty said. “We need help. Hopefully with our conversation today, we might leave here with some positive, powerful actions we can take.”
To register to vote online, visit www.votespa.com.