‘If we’re going to expand democracy and make it more representative for all people, we need to expand the electorate.’
By Marigo Farr and Adarsh Bhat
Kadida Kenner’s early exposure to voting planted a seed that came to life after working in North Carolina on the 2016 presidential election that ultimately resulted in defeat: “I came back to Pennsylvania to defend democracy in my hometown.”
The New Pennsylvania Project founder says her civic engagement began when her mom took her to the polls as a child. She would “grab me up on that Tuesday, and she’d say, ‘It’s time to go vote now.’”
Back home, Kenner took a job at the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center, working on policies to improve the well-being of low-income Pennsylvanians, such as raising the minimum wage. But she felt frustrated by the slow pace of change, and realized there was a structural issue at play.
“If we’re going to bring about change, if we’re going to expand democracy and make it more representative for all people, we need to expand the electorate,” Kenner says. And so she left her job to create New Pennsylvania Project, which focuses on registering voters in Pennsylvania.
“There are more than 1.1 million Pennsylvanians who are eligible to vote but not registered,” according to Kenner, whose organization used U.S. Census data to arrive at a number pegged as high as 1.7 million by state officials.
A lot of those are in communities of color, such as 20% of Black people who are eligible but remain unregistered, analyses by New Pennsylvania Project shows.
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Kenner and her colleagues and volunteers knock on doors and listen to people about what matters to them. Those issues often include underfunded schools, minimum wage, and lack of investment in community. Kenner’s team then encourages potential voters to join the electorate so they can do something about the things that will make a difference in their lives.
“We’re focusing on communities which we know are disenfranchised politically and functionally,” Kenner says. “They don’t see candidates knocking on their doors. We’re trying to fill the void.”