By Kathleen McFadden, Vision 2020 Communications Director
Jen Devor recently left her role as director of partnerships at Campus Philly, a Vision 2020 Allied Organization, to pursue a career in government. She's running for Philadelphia city commissioner.
If elected in May, Jen vows to increase voter turnout, protect voter rights and ensure Election Day in the City of Brotherly Love and Sisterly Affection runs smoothly. Among U.S. states, Pennsylvania ranks 31st in terms of voter accessibility.
Running for public office is no small undertaking. We caught up with Jen, who says “my dream, my goal, is to revolutionize the way Philadelphia votes,” to hear about her motivations to take her part-time civic work to a full-time role focused on election oversight.
You recently left your role as director of partnerships at Campus Philly, a Vision 2020 Allied Organization, to run for office, partly because of your passion for improving Philadelphia’s voting issues. Tell us about your plans and goals here.
My goals for this office are to increase voter turnout, protect voters’ rights and ensure Election Day is running smoothly.
I want every eligible Philadelphian to vote. That includes marginalized and vulnerable populations, such as those with certain criminal convictions, citizens with a language barrier and those affected by homelessness. I want to ensure new Philadelphians, Philadelphians who have recently moved and high school students who are about to turn 18+ have voting registration available to them as soon as possible. And, once they are registered, I will work to make sure that voters feel like they have the information they need to feel confident about the process on Election Day.
The City Commissioner’s office should be providing relevant and easy-to-understand resources to all eligible voters, and that is not currently happening. The City Commissioner’s office should be building a diverse coalition that includes the many different services and organizations that work throughout the city to maximize outreach, engagement and education about the election process. The office should be working to make sure voting is always part of the conversation, year-round. People deserve to know the responsibilities of the offices they’re being asked to vote for, to understand the charter questions and should be aware of the direct impact that their vote has every day, not just right before Election Day.
The City Commissioner’s office should be developing a pipeline to recruit poll workers for Election Day. Our election boards (aka poll workers) are in crisis, without the resources, staff and volunteers to ensure that our elections run smoothly. At this moment in time, people are becoming more politically active, and the office should be embracing this opportunity to engage and recruit those individuals to ensure that our election boards are staffed and fully resourced. We have the opportunity to build a consistent pipeline of Philadelphians able to work the polls each election, and I will make that a priority if elected. Not only should we be empowering eligible students and harnessing the energy of the hundreds of thousands of eligible residents to serve in this capacity, the office of City Commissioner should also engage and empower our current poll workers. By effectively engaging our current poll workers and empowering residents to serve in this capacity, we can secure these positions and confidently staff our polling places year after year.
As we prepare to install new voting machines, the Commissioner's Office will be responsible for training the election boards and maintaining machine security. I have the experience in technology project management and training that can be scaled to ensure the machines are running correctly and that our votes are protected during this crucial time, when the very process of voting is being questioned and undermined by individuals best served when people don’t vote.
I believe that voter suppression is often the result of human error, whether intentional or not, so most important is that the office of City Commissioner is transparent and that there is accountability.
What made you want to run for office at this time?
For six and a half years, I’ve loved my work at Campus Philly driving economic development and mobilizing college students to plant roots in the region. During my time at Campus Philly, I was able to really hone my leadership skills and use them to identify and engage a diverse network of partners. My work at Campus Philly inspired me to run because I know that my leadership skills and proven track record of building diverse coalitions are essential in the role of Commissioner.
Since I graduated from the Center for Progressive Leadership in 2012, I have been considering running for this office. I didn’t necessarily want to run for elected office, but my dream — my goal — is to revolutionize the way Philadelphia votes. I know I can be part of the team to revolutionize the way Philadelphia votes if elected as City Commissioner. Given the state of our country, and the influx of young candidates running, and often winning, elections, I felt it was my civic duty to step into the arena and take on this challenge.
What has been surprising about running for office? What’s one thing (or several) that you wish you knew going into this? Any advice for others considering a run for office?
Being ready to run for office is part preparing for the unknown, and part recognizing opportunity and grabbing it. Every day is long and different, and emotional, and tiring — but then I constantly get re-energized by the people that are supporting me, whether it's friends I've known for years, or strangers who approach me telling me they know about my campaign and that I have their vote. My mantra for this entire process is something that was printed on a plaque on President Obama’s desk in the Oval Office: “Hard things are hard.” There is a reason not everyone does this; it is very challenging, but the high risk will bring big rewards and so I believe it is worth it.
If I have one piece of advice for any person running, it’s to make sure you and your family make the decision to run together. My husband Tivoni is an incredible person, and we’ve always been supportive of each other. He is there for our daughter when I have grueling 15+ hour days. He makes me drink smoothies every day to ensure I am getting fruits and vegetables. He holds down the house and he makes sure I am focused on the campaign. And my daughter, who is five and just started kindergarten, understands to the best of her ability what I am doing and why it is important. It is hard to be away from her, but we try to explain the importance of this work. And we’re taking her to Disney after the election!