Presidential primaries equal huge turnout — is Philly ready?

Each Philadelphia polling place serves between 500 to 1,300 registered voters. In Maricopa County, where Phoenix is located, there was one polling location for every 21,000 registered voters.

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Photo by Timothy Rezendes via Creative Commons

High turnout in a primary that’s been competitive for longer than usual has meant problems in other states. In the Phoenix area, lines were 700 deep, and it took until four hours after the polls closed to get everyone through. The same long waits happened in Wisconsin. Even last week, in New York, lines were long and many people who reached the front of them were told they couldn’t vote because as inactive voters they’d been removed from the rolls. That happened to nearly 120,000 people in Brooklyn.  

Is Philadelphia at risk for similar complications?

The likely answer is no, thanks to an organizational system that promises reasonably small numbers of voters at each polling location even when voter turnout is high and a protocol for notifying inactive voters long in advance of the election.

Philadelphia is broken up into its infamous 66 wards and then further into about 1,700 divisions. Each division has its own polling place that serves between about 500 to 1,300 registered voters. In Maricopa County, where Phoenix is located, there was one polling location for every 21,000 registered voters.     

In 2008, when Democratic turnout was near an all-time high for the April primary, only a handful of divisions out of Philly’s 1,700 saw even 500 voters come throughout the day to cast ballots. A few machine malfunctions were the lone problems reported throughout the day (unfortunately, Philly’s outdated voting machines aren’t scheduled to be replaced until next year). Reports of problems during primaries in 2012, 2004 and 2000 were also minimal.

Last week, City Commissioner Al Schmidt’s office double-checked names of all recently registered voters to make sure they are on the rolls. Notifications to inactive voters were sent out in early 2015. One problem with New York and the numerous voters turned down was the New York Board of Elections was six months to a year behind schedule when it came to updating voter information.

The staff sizes at Philadelphia’s voting sites for Tuesday’s election are mandated by the state. Each location has four or five employees: a judge, a minority and majority inspector and one or two machine inspectors. Polling locations with more than 1,000 registered voters in the division have three machines. Those with fewer than 1,000 have two machines.

If you see any problems at your polling location Tuesday, you can contact the City Commissioners Office or the Committee of Seventy at 1-855-Seventy.


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