Dan Phillips knows it won’t be easy to win election as Lancaster County prothonotary.
The office is elected countywide in a county where Republicans dominate. Phillips, who lives in Mount Joy Township, is a Democrat.
“I’m not blind to the fact that I’ve got a snowball’s chance in hell,” Phillips said in an interview on Monday, Jan. 28. But he said he hopes a Democrat seeking a countywide office other than county commissioner (where one seat is set aside for a minority party) will encourage more Democrats to turn out to vote, making it more likely for Democrats to win municipal and school board races. And he said he wants his effort to help Democrats’ campaigns in local races, where he said candidates are often left largely on their own.
“I would like my campaign to provide a lot of those building blocks,” Phillips said.
And Phillips should know about local races — he was elected to the Elizabethtown school board at the age of 19 in 2013. (He appeared on the ballot then as Jeffrey Phillips; he now goes by his middle name.) That time, he had an easy time getting elected. School board and judicial elections in Pennsylvania allow candidates to cross-file and appear on the primary election ballots of both major parties. He did so and was one of three people on the ballot for the Republican nomination for four seats to be filled. He got both parties’ nominations, so the general election was a formality. He did not seek a second term in the 2017 election.
Phillips said most people who seek public office for the first time, though, have a much harder time. Someone with a full-time job who is raising children will find it to be a major challenge.
“I was alone. I didn’t have a lot of information,” Phillips said about his 2013 campaign for school board.
Phillips said he knew little more than what was on the county election website and it was unclear where to go to get more information. He said he wants to improve the information available to first-time candidates and is using his position on the Lancaster County Democratic Committee to push for that.
As for the office he is seeking now, he said it is a fairly obscure position. The prothonotary (rhymes with “dromedary”) is the clerk of the county’s civil court system.
“It’s a position that not a lot of people know about,” Phillips said. The prothonotary is responsible for maintaining records of property liens, name changes and other civil matters.
Phillips said his work in information technology will give him valuable experience if he is elected.
“Not only do you have to manage a lot of people, but it’s a large computer system that you have to maintain, Phillips said.
Phillips said he wants to update the prothonotary’s computer system. He said the existing website is hard to use.
“It’s cumbersome; it’s not easy for people to find anything,” Phillips said.
He said website users should be able to look at scans of documents like they can with the Recorder of Deeds website so they don’t have to go to the courthouse during business hours to look at documents. But he said the Recorder of Deeds website is not his model because it is too hard to use.
The county treasurer and district attorney are also up for election this year; Phillips said as far as he knows, he is the only Democrat running for a “row office,” which is the term used in Pennsylvania for countywide and statewide elected offices that have specific responsibilities (as opposed to more general ones like county commissioner and governor).
Lancaster County Democrats are holding their endorsement convention on Saturday, Feb. 23, and Phillips said he hopes to get the party’s endorsement then.