Credit: Mark Henninger / Imagic Digital

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Two weeks after Election Day, the Office of City Commissioners announced Tuesday night their count of all Philadelphia’s votes was complete.

The result? The city’s highest turnout since 1984, per Commissioner Al Schmidt.

Combining in-person with mail and valid provisional votes, more than 749,000 Philadelphians cast ballots in the November election. Contrary to early predictions, more city voters cast a ballot this year than when Obama was elected. Joe Biden received 81% of this year’s Philly vote, and Donald Trump pulled in 18%.

Just under half the total, about 365k of the city’s votes, came via mail ballot this year.

Turnout was high nationwide. More than 155 million Americans voted in the 2020 election, which is more than over a century, according to projections from Bloomberg. In Pennsylvania, more than 6.9 million people cast a ballot, PennLive reports, which is nearly 71% of the voting age population and the highest since 1960.

About 66% of Philly’s 1.1 million registered voters cast ballots this year — compared to 59% in 2016. Voter registration was also the highest since 1984, with about 9 out of 10 eligible Philadelphians signed up.

Despite the high number of early ballots cast, polling places across the city reported long lines on Nov. 3, especially in the first two or three hours. At Sharon Baptist Church, voters were waiting in a winding queue for nearly an hour and a half. Three separate lines stretched down the block at one location in South Philly, and in polling locations in the Northeast.

Lines mostly dissolved after the morning and reportedly failed to materialize during the lunch or evening rush, though voter traffic remained steady throughout the day, some poll workers said.

Mail voting was not evenly distributed

Widespread mail-in voting meant when the polls opened on Nov. 3, more than 100 million votes had already been cast in the U.S. Pennsylvania made up nearly 2.5 million of those, and Philly voters contributed the commonwealth’s largest chunk.

Early voting wasn’t evenly distributed across the city.

Wards in some neighborhoods requested mail ballots at nearly 20 times the rate of others. Voters in high-income or high-turnout wards almost always requested to vote by mail at higher rates than lower-income, low-turnout areas.

The 9th Ward, home to Mt. Airy and Chestnut Hill. consistently sees the highest voter turnout in the city — 79% this year — and it also had the highest rate of mail ballot requests: 660 per every 1,000 voters.

Turnout was also high in the 2nd Ward, which contains whiter, higher median-income neighborhoods like Queen Village and Bella Vista. Three-fifths of the voters living there requested mail ballots, per city data, finishing with about 73% turnout, above 2016 levels.

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In areas like the 6th Ward, encompassing West Philly’s Belmont neighborhood, only 37 out of 1,000k voters requested a mail ballot, but overall turnout was still up at around 60%. The neighborhood has a median household income of around $22k. Overall, the city’s lower-income neighborhoods were less likely to vote by mail.

The Far Northeast’s 66th Ward clocked 77% voter turnout this year. About one-third of voters there, where the median household income is about $56k, had requested a mail ballot.

West Philly’s 52nd Ward typically sees more than 60% turnout, and this year it was 68%. It’s a mixed-income ward that includes lower-income neighborhoods like Parkside and also areas like Overbrook, which has a $47k median household income. More than half the voters there requested a mail ballot.

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Layla A. Jones

Layla A. Jones (she/her) was a general assignment reporter for Billy Penn from 2019 to 2021. Her work has helped underserved community organizations, earned free repairs for property owners who sustained...