Philadelphia Vote Shows Winners, Losers as Monster Vote Count Nears End

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Philadelphia inched up its election turnout this November, delivering a predictable majority for Democratic candidates. That will be enough to carry presidential candidate Joe Biden past the victory line in Pennsylvania in all probability – providing him with a major boost to his win in the Electoral College.

More striking, however, was the performers of the party that lost in the city. Republicans upped their presidential tally by at least 18% over their result against Hillary Clinton in 2016, picking up more than 20,000 votes. Given their 7-1 registration disadvantage, that is a lot. When the final votes are counted, Biden will squeak past Clinton’s 584,025 total by a couple of points. The Philadelphia Democratic Party did not deliver the added punch that won back the commonwealth for the blue line, however.

Turnout weathered the storm of pandemic and the perplexities of mass absentee voting. As of 9:30 a.m., Nov. 12, 63% of registered voters’ ballots had been counted, with a few more still in review.

Approximately half of all city votes were cast by mail. While that number is huge by historical measures, the Board of Election’s efforts to ramp up polling places from their deep plunge in the June 2 primary election kept election-day turnout accessible throughout the city.

The Philadelphia Public Record covers politics and government in its city.

But mailed ballots created a hurdle for Philadelphia City Commission, which oversees the Board of Election, in timely processing. The Republican-controlled General Assembly in Harrisburg had forbidden the processing of absentee votes until after election day – a process that is still going on today and will not be complete until next week.

Thursday morning, about 35,000 ballots remained to be counted in Philadelphia. Of them, 17,500 are absentees with problems and 18,000 others are “provisionals” – ballots cast in person on election day. Both classes of ballot reflect flaws that must be studied and evaluated one by one, thereby slowing the count of valid votes.

A score of different anomalies can mar an absentee “problem child”: a signature may be placed on a wrong line, a piece of writing may be hard to read, a word does not exactly match a record, etc. The City commissioners, acting as a “Return Board,” vote on which kinds of problem invalidate a vote and which do not. Classes declared valid are then sent back to staff for data entry. This is Thursday’s lead task for them.

At a lower level, staff are inspecting provisional ballots to determine what issues lie behind them. Their votes will be next to be adjudicated and approved or rejected.

What Outcome Lies Ahead?

Based on ballots already processed, these remaining ones will likely break at least 75%-25% for Democrats.


At the statewide level, that means Philadelphia will add 18,000-25,000 to Biden’s current lead of 54,000 votes. Coupled with outcomes in 66 other counties, a Biden margin of 100,000 is a reasonable guess.

That’s if they survive legal challenges by Republicans. To date, no legal challenges against any Pennsylvania votes have passed muster in a court. But the date for the counties and the Commonwealth to certify votes is Nov. 23. This gives the Donald Trump campaign or other GOP foes time to focus on official numbers and to polish their arguments against them.

Trump is the only candidate for whom there is any incentive to challenge Philadelphia’s numbers. Two of the three downballot statewide races were wins for Republicans while the third, for attorney general, show incumbent Josh Shapiro 280,000 votes ahead of Republican challenger Heather Heidelbaugh, beyond the reach of any electoral finagling.


Philadelphia’s own Nina Ahmad, who was gunning for auditor general to succeed Eugene DePasquale, was bested by Dauphin County Controller Timothy Defoor with a margin similar to Shapiro’s. It was a disappointment to Ahmad, who ran for Congress in 2018 and had served in Mayor Kenney’s administration.

Ahmad noted, as the votes came in, “I am incredibly thankful for those who supported me. I am grateful to be one of just a few women in Pennsylvania history – and certainly the only woman of color – to ever receive more than 3 million votes statewide. I come to this country from war-torn Bangladesh with a very little else but a simple belief that this is a country in which dreams can be achieved, that elections matter, and every vote counts.”

Incumbent State treasurer Joe Torsella was lagging 75,000 votes behind his Republican challenger Joe Soloski today. The statewide final tally may lessen the gap but probably not enough to save Torsella’s seat.

Back to Trump’s post-election footwork. For his advocates to claim his tally reflects systematic suppression, or his opponent enjoyed systematic inflation, is hard to understand judging just by the numbers. If state or county Democrats cooked the vote to favor Biden for president, why didn’t they do the same for their auditor general and treasurer candidates? At the very least, if Democratic organizers did attempt to book fraudulent votes, they did a wretched job of it.

In Philadelphia at least, the total votes for the statewide candidates fell about 7% below those for the presidency. That’s about par for previous years; a certain share of voters only focus on the White House and skip lesser offices. Democrats had been worrying this year about the loss of the straight-ticket lever, removed by law this year, which made voting automatic for partisans you had never heard of, seeking offices you had never thought about.

But downballot Democrats fared well in vote-getting this year, suggesting their party workers did a good job of spreading the word for them.

Going to the Races Around Town

Republicans fared well in certain parts of the city.

Trump won the day in three wards: South Philadelphia’s largely middle-class 26th Ward, encompassing Girard Estates; and the 58th and 66th Wards in the Far Northeast, both of which are bastions of Fraternal Order of Police members. These communities did not like the anti-police protests and widespread looting that were a feature of civic life this year.


Conservative 26th Warders continued their tradition of backing every Republican down the ballot. More amenable to flipping, the 58th and 66th threw their weight behind Defoor and Soloski at the same time that they stood behind Shapiro. Perhaps his reputation as a tough-cookie of a prosecutor helped him with law-and-order constituents; in addition, the Far Northeast is close to Shapiro’s home base in Montgomery County.

By concentrating their forces on a handful of local contests, the City Republican Committee may have augmented their dwindling forces. They gave all Democratic State senators a free pass, avoiding their large and costly districts, and worked a handful of select state representative races instead.

State Rep. Martina White holds the lone Republican House seat in Philadelphia. Her 170th Legislative District is a public-safety stronghold in the Far Northeast. As expected, she is taking a 61% lead over Mike Doyle, who is supported by Congressman Brendan Boyle (D-Phila.)


An unknown, David Torres, put pressure on Boyle’s 2nd Congressional seat, winning 28% against the incumbent. In the 172nd Legislative District, another newcomer, Aaron Bashir, revved up against Boyle’s brother State Rep. Kevin Boyle (R-Northeast), even winning the 57th Ward while racking up 39% overall. This district is adjacent to White’s and shares some of the demographics.

In the 177th Legislative District in the River Wards, long home to GOP stalwart John Taylor, John Nungesser ran a hard race to rack up 41% against State Rep. Joe Hohenstein (D-Northeast), showing that bluecollar Republicanism still has an ear in this area. He took Port Richmond’s 45th Ward.

State Rep. Pam DeLissio (D-Northwest), whose 194th District marries Roxborough and Wynnefield with parts of Lower Merion Township, ran up 74% of the vote against Republican Lisa Riley.

Lou Menna IV picked up some disaffected working-class Dems as well as surviving old-school Republicans to rattle young progressive incumbent Elizabeth Fiedler (D-S. Phila.) in the Whitman and Pennsport area, collecting 29% of the vote.

Easiest race of the season was State Rep. Amen Brown (D-W. Phila.), who took his first general-election race handily with 95% of the vote against Republican Wanda Logan in a working-class Black 190th.


The monster state-rep race was in Center City’s 182nd District, where State Rep. Brian Sims (D-S. Phila.) took 83% of the vote against Republican Drew Murray. While his victory was no surprise, Sims never gets a rest from primary challenges. Together, the two sucked more total votes out of their legislative district than any other in town: 40,318 as of Thursday. (By comparison, State Rep. Angel Cruz (D-Kensington), who ran unopposed in the barrio, was getting by fine with just 12,918.)

The contest for Top Unopposed Vote-getter is little watched except by aficionados. Gold this year goes to State Rep. Chris Rabb (D-Northwest) of the 200th, who was pulling 35,491 votes from his vote-mad constituents in Chestnut Hill and Mt. Airy; silver went to State Rep. Jordan Harris (D-S. Phila.) with 31,198 in his 186th, dominated by Pt. Breeze and Grays Ferry. Harris is Democratic whip in the House and has earned wide respect.

In general, State-office turnout was higher in whitecollar, college-educated wards, mostly clustered near Center City; moderate in Black-dominated wards of moderate income; and low in bluecollar wards of Kensington and the Northeast, where working-class whites are more to be found.

Take the State Senate races, where no opposition sparked the data. Progressive young paladin Nikil Saval had won 121,106 votes in the 1st District, running against nobody; his colleague in waiting, State Sen. John Sabatina, Jr. of the 5th District, had taken just 66,985.

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