Solutions: Committee of Seventy

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Committee of Seventy is a government-oriented nonprofit organization. The organization itself is about 115 years old. Committee of Seventy is dedicated to informing people to go out and vote for better voter turnout. They do this through voter education.

According to the Committee of Seventy website, the organization “gives voice to higher expectations for the behavior and performance of public officials and for how government should operate. We serve as an outspoken critic and work with local journalists to inform the public and hold government accountable,”

Lauren Cristella is the Chief Advancement Officer at the Committee of Seventy. Cristella and her co-workers encourage people to visit the organization’s website to find up-to-date election materials and be better informed voters.

“You can find whatever you may be looking for on our website,” Cristella said. “Elections, how they work, and who’s on your ballot.” Also, on the site, a person can find their specific polling place.

Cristella explained that the name of the organization comes from a biblical reference. “When Moses needed help wondering the desert leading the people, he asked Jesus for help and he sent him 70 elders,” she said.

The Committee of Seventy serves as  a voting information source for about 75,000 people in the five-county Philadelphia area.  The Committee educates voters on voter ID laws and the voter registration process. The Committee is also a frequent source for journalists who have questions about government practices, government officials or issues of corruption.

The organization will soon launch a messaging campaign called ”The Campaign for Political Responsibility.” Cristella said, “People are getting discouraged with others trying to influence and take away their voice, so the Committee came up with five points to help people understand the ways to become civically involved. They are: Be a voter; Choose your news wisely (media literacy); Take action; Invite diverse perspectives; and, Learn how it works.”

The Committee of Seventy has been successful in a number of its good government initiatives. One was a court battle that led to stricter limits on campaign finance contributions. This effort has served to reduce corruption of government officials in Philadelphia. Another success story is its work in harnessing a coalition of 185 state-wide groups to educate voters about changing voter ID rules.

Cristella believes all the Committee’s work is important, and among their many efforts she feels that media literacy is vital. The public needs to educate itself enough to be able to separate facts from fiction. 

In addition to these activities outlined above, the Committee of Seventy works closely with different news outlets to make government operations more transparent. They hear from government officials, too, who have interests in different reforms. Cristella said, “Government officials want to know what we think because they respect our opinions.” 

Right now in Philadelphia there is a debate underway on whether government officials should be allowed to work on political campaigns. There are also talks about term limits and open primaries. The Committee has been meeting to come up with their position on these different issues. According to Cristella,  the Committee does a good job in advocating for political reform. 

Youth civic engagement has been the most difficult, Cristella said. Working with teachers and students. Getting outreach and distribution to students and teachers is a challenge for the Committee while also trying to maintain funds as well.

Each major initiative that originates with the Committee of Seventy has its own set of performance metrics. The Committee measures their progress each year through their different accomplishments and progress. 

Voter turnout is a metric of progress, and as such, the Committee of Seventy has partnered with Lyft to help people get to the polls. Also, on election day, many members of the Committee call in about polling place changes. Cristella said that they are a big resource for things like that.

The Committee of Seventy is giving people a voice in politics now. Yet, Cristella knows there’s still more to do. “Happy, but not satisfied,” Cristella said. “I am really proud of the work we do and proud to be a part of an organization that I respected for years as a Philadelphian. My goal is to grow the organization so that we can have a bigger impact.” 

What would help the Committee achieve its desired impact? “Money! Always money,” Cristella said.

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Youth Voters Unite is a transmedia storytelling project produced by senior Communication majors at Cabrini University. Students in Senior Convergence: Media for Social Justice are reporting this academic year on the voting process and voting justice topics. Their goal is to educate youth voters on the importance of engaging in the political process and claiming their right to shape their own future. 

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