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April 24, 2017

ACLU campaign aims to engage Philly voters in district attorney's race

The deadline to register to vote in next month's Pennsylvania primary election has passed, but a civil liberties advocacy group is continuing efforts to motivate Philadelphia residents to engage in important races.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania is conducting a campaign called "Smart Justice" to inform Philly voters about local races that will affect criminal justice in the city.

While the aftermath of the 2016 presidential election is still on the minds of most Americans, the nonpartisan organization is attempting to turn attention to the district attorney's race. The winner will arguably have a greater impact on the city than state and federal elected leaders, officials claim. Serving as the city's top prosecutor, the district attorney decides how criminal cases are prosecuted, offers plea bargains and more.

On the campaign's website, the group's goal is "to educate Philadelphia voters, particularly its members and those indirectly impacted communities, about the role the district attorney plays in mass incarceration."

Eight candidates – seven Democrats and one Republican – are vying to take over for embattled District Attorney Seth Williams, who declined to run for re-election as he faces legal issues of his own. Former prosecutor Beth Grossman is the only Republican candidate on the ballot, while former state prosecutors Joe Khan and Mike Untermeyer, former Municipal Court Judge Teresa Carr Deni, civil rights attorney Lawrence Krasner and former assistant district attorneys Tariq El-Shabazz and Jack O’Neill are looking to secure the Democratic nod.

Although the ACLU of Pennsylvania does not endorse a candidate, the group's platform urges for reform, including more transparency, an end to civil asset forfeiture and reducing incarceration levels.

The organization is looking for volunteers to make phone calls, speak out on the issues and/or be available on election day.

The primary election is scheduled for Tuesday, May 16.