Meet the Manayunk resident who went viral after a single-vote election win

Phillip Garcia, a Temple graduate student and new judge of election for Ward 21 poses for a photo at the Bell Tower on Temple University's main campus on Monday afternoon, December 4, 2017.

Phillip Garcia showed up on Election Day to vote for Larry Krasner. Then the Manayunk grad student noticed that the space for judge of election was blank.

Which is how the name Phillip Garcia was written in as an election overseer in Philadelphia’s Ward 21, Div. 10.

In a tweet that has gone viral on social media, Garcia shared, in a state of disbelief, the lesson learned last week about election math in Philadelphia, particularly when it comes to smaller offices:

One write-in vote can equal victory.

Nobody had filed a petition for the seat or written in the name for a candidate other than Garcia, who is 30 and a nonbinary trans person who uses the pronouns they and them. The tweet included a photo of the winning certificate that they’d received in the mail Friday. It’s since been retweeted 17,000 times, and favorited by 58,000 users.

On Monday at Temple University, Garcia sat across from the Bell Tower in the heart of the school, receiving well wishers. A couple stopped to congratulate the Ph.D candidate, having heard the news. With some greeters, Garcia laughed at the luck. Other times Garcia seemed somewhat uneasy that the story had blown up so quickly, or even had happened at all.

“I think I’m still trying to figure … good thing or a bad thing,” Garcia said. “It’s good that one vote can do something concrete. [Still,] I didn’t have to know anything to get it. That’s frightening. You don’t have to be qualified in any way or know what you’re doing.”

These one-shot victories aren’t unusual at the election-board level. In November, Garcia was one of 71 judges of election to win uncontested. In the last election for that position, in 2013, the total was 55.

Philadelphia has 1,686 voting divisions; each might cover only hundreds of residents. The division where Garcia won is a thin strip, just a little more than seven blocks.  Judges of election are expected to work twice a year, with additional days added to the calendar in case of a special election. For each Election Day, the pay is $100.

“Winning the election is the easy part,” said City Commissioner Al Schmidt. “Working 14 hours on an Election Day, that’s when people have to be serious about it.”

Garcia, who is working toward a doctorate in English, is a teaching fellow and editor-at-large for The Rumpus, and goes by @avantgarcia on Twitter, which includes this profile message: “I’m a they & a kid of an immigrant.”

Garcia moved to Philly for their graduate program, focusing on educating native Spanish speakers in ESL composition. The Razorback has an Arkansas tattoo on their forearm, but appreciates being able to blend in better in Philly than in Little Rock. Back home, Garcia was actively involved as a community organizer as a fellow at the University of Arkansas’ Clinton School of Public Service.

In Philly, Garcia’s life has pretty much been consumed by teaching and coursework. The graduate student described being disappointed with Trump’s win, and had attended a few protests in the last year, but hadn’t engaged deeply with local politics here, until now. Garcia recalls the rhetoric from Trump’s presidential campaign, labeling Hispanics drug traffickers and rapists, calling for poll watchers to keep an eye on alleged fraud.

“I was the type of the person he didn’t want to vote in the first place with that mode of intimidation,” said Garcia, whose father was an undocumented immigrant. “I guess I just feel I’ve stuck Donald Trump in the eye a little bit.”

This might be why Garcia tweeted Saturday that their first official act is to call for the impeachment of the president.

The second pronouncement is that henceforth, every Tuesday in Manayunk is now Taco Tuesday.

The online backlash  has distressed Garcia, particularly given that the tweet was tongue in cheek.

“The amount [of hate] I’ve received over a short period of time — a little intense,” the new elected said. “I think what’s odd about the reaction is that a lot of people feel more strongly about it than I did when I did it. I didn’t think about it.”

Garcia cares about sanctuary cities, health care and student debt.  But none of that came to mind when Garcia completed the write-in. “I wish I had a strong moral reason to do it.”