The landscape of the Marie Dendy Recreation Center at 10th and Oxford Streets in lower North Philadelphia is peppered with campaign signs. Representatives for candidates are on hand to pass out fliers, but a quick glance reveals there is more campaign literature than voters. Yet, seven hours after opening its doors, less than 70 voters have turned out.
Stephen Williams is the Committeeman for the 20th Ward, Third Division. He has supervised the polling location at the edge of the Ludlow neighborhood for nearly six years and says he is not surprised by the low voter turnout.
“The rain is bad,” he says. “Normally, we would have about 1,000 [voters] here today.”
Williams says the bad weather, a crowded ballot and low voter interest in the judicial races may have caused many voters to stay home for the 2011 primary election.
“Even though Milton Street is running, people expect Michael Nutter to win anyway,” he says. “So there’s not much interest in this election.”
E. Ralph Johnson has voted in Philadelphia for more than 50 years. He says he was not discouraged by the rain but found the entire voting process stressful.
“It’s a little confusing,” says Johnson. “And the text is too small. I had to use a magnifying glass.”
Johnson took a list of his preferred candidates into the voting booth to prevent any confusion.
“I came prepared,” he says. “I had all my numbers already written down here but it was [still] too much.”
Phyllis Henley has also voted in the Ludlow area for decades.
“Those machines are a mess in there,” she says clutching her umbrella. “It’s confusing. Those numbers are not in order, so if the number says 141, it may be all the over there rather than in sequence. And if you’re not educated….”
To make matters worse, Henley says had no interest in the majority of the races.
“I want Blondell Reynolds Brown and Clarke to win,” she says about two incumbent candidates for City Council. “I don’t know anyone else on the ballot.”
Polls are required to place a copy of the ballot in a place where voters can see it before going into the voting booth. Williams says at least two committee people are also assigned to each polling place to answer questions.
“We are responsible for getting out the vote and acting as a middleman between the constituents and city officials,” says Williams.
But few asked for help.
“I didn’t ask for help,” says Johnson.
Henley says she didn’t ask for help either, even when she had questions while voting.
“I didn’t tell anybody because I didn’t want to start any trouble.”
Despite the confusion, Williams says he hopes voters will come out and speak up if they have problems.
“That’s my job,” he says. “If there is a problem and they don’t want to write letters, that’s what I do. I let their officials know what the issues are.”