Since the most recent election, Penn has gained a new representative in government other than POTUS—Louis Lin (C’20). He will serve as a Judge of Elections in Philadelphia’s 27th ward, the zone in which Penn falls, as a Democrat.
A member of Public Policy Initiative Student Group (PPISG) as well as a former campus organizing fellow for the Clinton campaign, Louis is no stranger to politics and policy from the local to federal levels. He based much of his campaign on social media outreach, including a campaign Facebook page. In the demographically younger zone he now represents, that social media–based approach paid off. In his capacity as Judge of Elections, Louis will be instrumental in future elections in his division, from setting up polling places, swearing in poll workers to making sure voting rights are upheld but also that only registered voters are voting.
Louis cites Trump's unfounded accusation of illegal voting and the rise in voter suppression rhetoric as instrumental in his decision to run. He spoke to Street about what he plans to do with his four–year term, his motivations for seeking office and whether or not he relates to Ben Wyatt.
Street: What inspired you to pursue an elected office in local government?
Louis Lin: I love the city of Philadelphia and I hope to help bring change here. The 27th Ward of Philadelphia consists of University City, and I think it is absolutely necessary that students are involved in local government here to give a voice to the tens of thousands of students in Philly. To many people local government isn’t considered as important as presidential elections. I hold the belief that all levels of government are important, and local government may even be more important. Local election turnout is undeniably lower than main year elections, but it is at the local level that our votes can make the biggest influence. Election margins are determined by fewer votes, so people's investment really matters.
Street: Do you have further political aspirations?
LL: I definitely plan to stay involved in politics. My biggest interests are health and education policy. I plan to start off locally here in Philadelphia now and after Penn. In the future, I’m not sure where I’ll end up. I would love to serve in Congress, work for an elected official, and/or work in an advocacy group. As long as I’m doing something I love and am passionate about, then I’ll be happy!
Street: Did your time in PPISG or other political groups on campus inspire you to seek office?
LL: For sure! I’ve wanted to go into health policy for a long time, but growing up I thought I would do that by going into medicine first before politics. However, last year I was an organizing fellow with PA Dems, and that experience was a catalyst that made me realize I wanted to go into public policy and service. Different clubs and organizations also have also inspired me to seek office. As a part of the Public Policy Initiative Student Group I’ve been able to pursue my two biggest interests in health and education policy; as a board member of Penn in Washington I’ve been able to work with other people interested in policy and bring speakers to campus. And as a part of Penn First and the Admission Dean's Advisory board I’ve been able to advocate for first generation, low income students. My experiences at Penn have truly helped shape me into who I am and want to be.
Street: Favorite political figure and why?
LL: I would say Alexander Hamilton because of his background, plus I love Lin-Manuel Miranda’s musical about him. Current–day political figures, I’d choose Representative Judy Chu, because of her ideology and importance of Asian–American representation, and Senator Elizabeth Warren for being a champion for progressive ideals. Both have faced enormous challenges to get to where they are, and I admire that they’re fighting for what’s right.
Street: Advice for students looking to get into elected politics? Or just for students who care about an issue and want to see change locally?
LL: My biggest advice is to go for it and not be discouraged. I come from an immigrant, low-income family, and I’m the first one to go to college. The cards were always stacked against me, but my experiences helped me grow my passions in health and education policy and politics in general. I know I want to help create positive change, and so I plan to continue fighting and advocating. My biggest goal is to help inspire other young people to get more engaged. So I can only encourage other people to find their passion, cause, or issue and go fight for it. I’m working on creating an organization that works to get more Millennials and Generation Z people more involved and that doesn’t have to be running for office, just more engaged overall. We are the future leaders in this great nation, and we should have a say in what our future entails.
Street: Predictions for election reform in the age of Trump (if you have any)?
LL: This is something that can go either way. Some things won’t change and other things will. Two things I would have loved to see reformed would be Citizens United and gerrymandering. Now that I’m much more knowledgeable about campaign finance, I think it is even more essential to our democracy to have campaign finance reform, and reversing Citizens United is just one step. I unfortunately don’t see this happening under the current administration. Gerrymandering is another election reform that I would love to see advanced. This is making significant headway across the country, like here in Pennsylvania. Even today, the Supreme Court found North Carolina’s racial Gerrymandering unconstitutional. So this is definitely something that is being improved.
Finally, I think that something that will be changed in a negative direction is the increase of voter suppression, something that would affect the Judge of Election position directly. The reason I ran for this position was because of Trump falsely accusing 3-5 million people of illegally voting. He recently created an Election Integrity Commission. In reality, widespread voter fraud doesn’t occur so the commission isn’t really going to help with election integrity. If he wants to help with election reform he should focus on reversing voter suppression laws with the commission.
Street: Have you seen Parks and Rec? If so, what character do you think you'll be most like in your role?
LL: I would have to say Ben Wyatt. He is fun, selfless, and unapologetically himself. Plus, he ran for mayor at the age of 18, so I can relate to the whole 18 and running for election thing (minus the whole Ice Town situation).
If you want to get involved in local politics, or just learn more, check out:
- Young Involved Philadelphia, a nonprofit promoting youth engagement with policy and local politics in Philly
- The Committee of Seventy’s handy list of tools to run for elected office
- Philly’s official elections page for forms and voting info