Voting is nothing new for Bridget Conroy-Varnis, a South Philly crossing guard who regularly performs her civic duty on Election Day. Yet this year’s election is one she’ll never forget. As she walked out of the Murphy Recreation Center on 4th and Shunk streets shortly after 6:30 p.m., she was met by a small crowd and an NBC10 camera.
Bridget appeared to be confused at first as Larry Platt, the co-founder and editor of multi-platform media organization the Philadelphia Citizen approached her.
“Hi, I’m Larry Platt,” he said as he shook her hand. “Did you just vote?”
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“Yes I did,” Bridget replied.
Platt then took out a $10,000 check and handed it to her.
“You’re our $10,000 winner,” he said as Bridget laughed and clapped her hands in disbelief. “Thank you so much for voting!”
The award was part of the Philadelphia Citizen’s election lottery initiative to encourage local residents to become more involved in the civic life of Philadelphia. Platt told NBC10 the time and location were selected at random.
“Earlier today we put all 1600 polling places in a computer program and it randomly resulted in this polling place,” he said. “And we did the same with the time. So we came here at 6:36 p.m. and Bridget was waiting for us. She had finished casting her ballot. We had someone inside scouting and called us, described her and said she was on her way out of the voting booth. And then we all ambushed her.”
The $10,000 prize is funded by a grant from the Pamela and Ajay Raju Foundation. Ajay Raju is the CEO and Chairman of the Dilworth Paxson law firm as well as the co-founder of the Philadelphia Citizen. Platt explained to NBC10 that the competition was perfectly legal.
“You can do this in local elections and in Pennsylvania elections as long as you’re not asking people to vote a certain way,” he said.
Bridget, who works as a school crossing guard on 10th and Bigler streets, said she can’t wait to tell the students she walks across the street about her big win.
“All the kids are gonna say something,” she said.
While Bridget heard about the Philadelphia Citizen’s lottery, she didn’t imagine she’d be the winner and she wasn’t even thinking about it when she went to vote. Instead she was merely doing something she’s always done.
“Every vote counts,” she said. “Do your civic duty.”
Platt hopes the lottery and initiatives similar to it will encourage more Philadelphia residents to get involved in their local elections.
“We wanted to send a message that every vote matters,” he said. “We were nervous that we’d be benefiting someone that didn’t need it. What a great recipient and great spokeswoman for voting. That’s what we want to do. We want to continually do things to up the level of civic participation because that’s what we need in this city.”