Voter Turnout Low Across Philadelphia
If Election Day comes, but no one comes out to vote, did it really happen? In traveling to several different polling locations across Philadelphia, the lack of enthusiasm was stunning. Sure, there were campaign signs plastered around the city, but where was the vaunted ground game that Bob Brady promised? A guy armed with a megaphone in a minivan shouted at people to vote Democrat at one polling location, but it was a snoozefest everywhere else, with low turnout plaguing the city.
Even more disconcerting was the fact that those who did vote hardly had any idea who they were voting for. Most of the people I spoke with knew their party’s candidates only by name, and the vast majority voted Democrat as if it were routine, rather than focusing on specific issues. The good news for President Obama is that he was the main reason people voted blue in the city.
“There are times in the past where I’ve split my ticket, but not this year,” said Marj Rosenblum, a 62-year old retired school teacher. “I want to support Obama. He had so many problems when he came to office and I still believe in him.”
Rosenblum voted at 10th and Passyunk at the South Philadelphia Older Adult Center, where according to one of the judges, turnout was “fabulous”. Indeed, this particular polling spot was more active than others, with mostly older (as in senior) folks coming out to cast their vote. Over in Fishtown, at Penn Home, a polling location with a similar age group, Democratic Commitee member AJ Thomson said that turnout was much lower than it had been in 2008 when Obama was on the ticket. When we spoke this afternoon, he said they had just reached 100 people on the day, a 16 percent turnout for that location. He indicated that there was a complete lack of interest in the candidates on today’s ballot.
“The people who have come out are the people who vote all the time,” said Thomson. “There are very few who come here because they really want to vote for somebody.”
In fact, one couple in Fishtown said that they were voting today specifically to vote against Obama. Anthony and Nancy Bartelle, a landlord and hairdresser respectively, said that while in the past they have voted primarily with the Democrats, there is “something” about Obama that made them switch allegiances in 2008. This time around, they both voted Pat Toomey for senator and Tom Corbett for governor, two rare GOP votes in a staunchly Democratic enclave of the city. Anthony Bartelle said that he wasn’t crazy about either party, citing the Republican’s lack of a solid alternative (besides “No!”) to any of Obama’s policies.
“Nobody has a concrete idea anymore,” he said. “I’m hoping that somebody will really step up and do something, that’s pretty much what I vote for. And for the past 20 years it hasn’t happened.”
In the minority sections of the city, Obama support ran high, but again, there seemed to be an extreme disconnect between voters and the actual candidates on the ballot, leading to lower turnout. On 2nd and Somerset, a heavily Latino section of the city, voters hardly knew anything about the candidates on the ballot, and the judges reported lower turnout today than there were even in the primary elections. The main motivation for voting Democrat in this neighborhood, said 21-year old Kenia Hernandez, was so that they could push immigration reform as the next landmark legislation.
“Obama’s got one more thing to do: immigration,” she said. “My ex-boyfriend is illegal, he works hard for his family, doing construction. It’s not fair because he can’t vote and his family can’t vote. He can’t have his own car, house, nothing.”
A volunteer at the polling station on 16th and Cumberland Sts. in North Philadelphia, said that in this mostly African-American neighborhood, most people are at work so he expected a higher turnout later in the day. I asked another longtime volunteer at this station, Claretha Fulcher, a 59-year old phlebotamist, why people in this neighborhood would even bother voting if they didn’t know anything about the candidates. She said that most of this neighborhood, like the rest of the country, just want the economy to improve and will do anything, including voting Democrat, to see that through.
“There are people in this neighborhood who have been out of work since the Bush administration,” said Fulcher. “Over the years, these candidates have promised us what they’re going to do for the working man and then they go to Washington and work for themselves. People keep voting to hope that this candidate will make it better.”
In the end, even an uninformed vote is still a vote.