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Talking Primaries with Melissa Livney

Melissa Livney (left) and Lou Ann Merkle getting out the vote in Plymouth Township.

When you think “election season,” you may think of the general election in November, and you’re not wrong. You may, however, be glossing over some less renown but equally important voting opportunities that make a tremendous difference to our community.

Before the general elections, each party offers an opportunity to vote in the primary elections, wherein voters get to decide on the candidates they want to compete during the general election period. Because they don’t generate the same kind of media coverage as general elections, primaries are historically poorly attended.

Resident and CAARSEA board member Melissa Livney is on a mission to change that. “We have a primary in May that’s hardly on anybody’s radar.” Paraphrasing election and voting rights activists, she adds, “Your elected representatives can’t represent you if you’re not voting, and once they’re in office, they tend to stay in office. This perpetuates the cycle of poor representation.” Particularly in communities of color and other marginalized communities, some may feel as though their representatives do not prioritize issues that are important to them. This perceived lack of representation makes members of these communities less likely to vote at all, and the cycle continues.

As the May primary approaches, Melissa and other CAARSEA members are working to raise voter participation through a two-pronged approach: 1) education, and 2) encouraging people to vote on primary day. To help communicate with potential voters, CAARSEA recently launched the “Let’s Talk About It” Zoom series to offer a brief highlight of different issues affecting our community. So far, these topics have included getting out the youth vote, our area’s recent redistricting, and Conshohocken mayor Yaniv Aronson sharing his story of becoming involved in politics. These discussions help residents understand that their voices do matter. An upcoming series will raise awareness of candidates running for office in the newly redrawn 54th District, which includes Plymouth Township and the boroughs of Conshohocken and Norristown. “This is a typically Democratic voting area, so the primary is actually really important because whoever wins the primary is likely to win the seat,” Melissa notes.

Of course, it is essential that people actually vote on primary day. The second focus of CAARSEA’s approach is getting out the vote. They do this by connecting residents to organizations such as Turn PA Blue as well as the New PA Project who are working to register new voters and help get people to the polls. As the primary gets closer, Melissa’s goal is to galvanize CAARSEA’s members to participate in “get out the vote” efforts. These efforts include door-knocking, raising awareness of the primary at community events, or text banking via Zoom with a group of fellow activists. These efforts couldn’t be more important at this point in time: “There are a lot of anti-racism and social equity issues on the table [during this election cycle], including voter suppression, funding for schools, and LGBT issues, and they all happen through legislation,” says Melissa. “That starts locally with our community leaders and school board, and it goes all the way up to Washington.”

The primary will take place May 17th. To get involved in CAARSEA’s efforts to increase primary awareness and voting, visit our website or reach out to us on Facebook.

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