North Philly wards hopeful for high turnout in midterms

Five wards near Main Campus reported 24 to 34 percent turnout in the 2014 midterm election.

JULIE CHRISTIE & IAN WALKER / THE TEMPLE NEWS SOURCE: City of Philadelphia Voter Turnout General Election & Qualified Voter Registry 2014 General election.

Ward leaders near Main Campus hope more people come out to vote this midterm election after the area had turnout below the national average in the past two midterm elections. They’re hopeful, but not optimistic.

The five North Philadelphia electoral wards on and around Main Campus recorded turnout ranging from 24 to 34 percent in the 2014 midterm election, according to City Commissioner Al Schmidt’s 2014 and 2016 reports.

Wards 16, 20, 32, 37 and 47 all recorded turnout lower than the 37 percent citywide average and the 36.4 percent national average for the 2014 midterms. 

In the 2016 presidential election, turnout in the five wards ranged from 54 to 60 percent, and citywide turnout jumped to 66 percent. Two wards––16 and 32––had turnouts higher than the national average.

The 2018 midterm election is on Nov. 6.

Renee McNair is the Democratic leader of Ward 20, which had 25 percent voter turnout in the 2014 midterms, the seventh-lowest percentage among the city’s 66 wards. Ward 20, which is bounded by Master Street to the south, Susquehanna Avenue to the north, Broad Street to the west and 6th Street to the east, encompasses Main Campus.  

“I need to make sure the committee people let the people in their district know how important it is to vote,” McNair said. “I always feel like that [high turnout] should happen but that didn’t happen [in the 2014 midterms]. Some people don’t know who to vote for. They’re not aware of who there is on the ballot.”

Terry Starks, the Republican leader of Ward 20, agreed that the Temple community, especially young voters, have limited knowledge about the upcoming midterms.

“We have to get more voter awareness to get voter turnout,” Starks said. “Around Temple… voters don’t know who the candidates are, and don’t know anything about the candidates.”

Political science professor David Nickerson said the below-average turnout in 2014 is due to the area’s population of college students and the fact that North Philadelphia is experiencing poverty. 

“I imagine that Philadelphia, in general, might see a slight uptick in 2018, but it isn’t going to be a large departure from past elections,” Nickerson said. “Higher-income people tend to vote more often than low-income people. There is a lot of public housing around Temple.” 

“It’s not surprising that the areas around Temple have a lot lower turnout than average,” he added.

According to a 2015 U.S. Census Bureau report, about 59 percent of people with incomes less than $29,999 did not vote in the 2014 midterm elections. Fifty-five percent of those who cannot vote, a group that includes people who have committed felonies and non-citizens, are people experiencing poverty, according to a 2013 Harvard University report.

Midterm elections typically see a dropoff in turnout from presidential elections, Nickerson said. National turnout, using voting-age population, for the 2014 midterms was 17.2 percent lower than the 2016 presidential election, according to the Pew Research Center.

Nickerson said the dropoff from midterms to presidential elections is more significant in younger voters. According to the United States Election Project, about 16 percent of eligible voters between the ages of 18 and 29 voted in the 2014 elections, while about 43 percent voted in 2016. 

“It’s hard to predict [turnout], and on the one hand there are a lot of student activists and the students who care about politics are very engaged,” Nickerson said. 

“Whether it be the Parkland [, Florida] shooting or immigration, the environment, there’s a lot of issues where young people may not care about parties, but they care about the issues, and so they are organizing around issues,” he added. 

McNair said she’s seen a more active, young voter base than in the past, leading up to November’s election. 

“It’s up to them,” she said. “I’m looking forward to that. We all have to try to get it done.”

Some North Philadelphia residents and Temple students are motivated to vote, while others do not plan to vote, like Sherri Palmer, a 31-year-old staff member at the School District of Philadelphia who lives near Lehigh Avenue and Broad Street. 

“None of the candidates [are] reaching out to me,” Palmer said. “It’s the same thing every year. Nothing’s new.” 

Some students, like secondary education and mathematics major J.P. Fay, are not informed about the candidates running for local offices, leaving them unsure if they should stay home on Election Day.

“I just haven’t really been following the news, [and] I don’t know too much about the candidates,” Fay said. “I’ll vote for anyone who’s against [President Donald] Trump… I’m not going to give my vote away to someone who I don’t know much about.”

“I haven’t considered voting quite yet,” said Jason Block, a freshman environmental engineering major. “I haven’t done enough research. This is my first year I can vote.”

Senior kinesiology major Synquetta Blackmon, however, is mobilized to vote in the midterms. 

“I’ve been voting since I could vote, and it’s the right thing to do,” she said. “At least I can say I tried.” 

EDITOR’S NOTE: Deputy City Editor Will Bleier is an organizing fellow for the Pennsylvania Democratic Party. He took no part in the editing or reporting of this article. Deputy Campus Editor Alyssa Biederman previously canvassed for the Pennsylvania Democratic Party. She took no part in the editing or reporting of this article. 

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