Philadelphia /

Low Voter Turnout at Center City Polls

Jim Kenney

Democratic Nominee for Mayor of Philadelphia Jim Kenney. (Photo Credit: Matt Cassidy)

PHILADELPHIA – Voter traffic for the May 19 Pennsylvania Primary Elections was stagnant in most precincts around the city of Philadelphia. Although this is somewhat commonplace in primaries, this year’s ballot included a race that could all but guarantee the next mayor of the city.

Majority Inspector for the 8th Ward, 15th Division, John Nernoff spoke with vigor about his duties to serve curious voters at his polling station on the ground floor of the Phoenix Luxury Condominium at 1600 Arch St. overlooking JFK Plaza.

He said that his division had received 82 votes by 1 p.m. averaging about 14 per hour.

But does low turnout mean that only the most informed voters are showing up while disinterested folks stay at home?

On a smoke break outside of Two Penn Center, Shannon Mulvehill shared that she would be voting for Lynne Abraham in the Democratic primary for mayor. Mulvehill expressed favor with the former District Attorney because she had recently visited and taken a picture with her daughter at an elementary school award ceremony.

“She is a woman and she was a good D.A.,” Mulvehill said. “I don’t know too much else.”

When initially asked whom she would vote for, Mulvehill made reference to an email that she received from a friend with a list of the best choices.

Jim Kenney

Down in Washington Square West, Lois Durso volunteered at the Church of St. Luke & the Epiphany on S. 13th Street where the 5th Ward, 9th Division polls were located.

At 3 p.m., Durso said her division had only seen 59 voters “which unfortunately, is pretty good for a primary.” She expected to she more people at the close of the workday.

Jason Moore, 22, a student at Thomas Jefferson University cast his first ballot in Philadelphia since he moved from Florida last July. He was drawn to the polls by the mayoral and city council races.

“I guess, I was just looking at their track record,” Moore said. “How they view education primarily.”

Just blocks away in the ‘Gayborhood,’ the William Way LGBT Community Center served as home to the elections for the 7th and 29th divisions of the 5th Ward. At 3:15 p.m., the 7th and 29th had 102 and 18 votes, respectively. The 29th is made up mostly of University of the Arts students whose spring term ended last week, resulting in low turnout.

This was the first time the 7th Division held elections outside of Pine Street Pizza in over 30 years. Poll watcher John Jordan said the beloved neighborhood pizza shop “closed suddenly” in the first week of May which led to a mad scramble for a new location.

The change didn’t seem to faze English teacher Henry Patterson, 49, who exuded a chipper attitude.

“I voted for Kenney because my husband told me we’re voting for Kenney,” Patterson said. “I also voted for Paul Steinke. I’ve known him for, oh my gosh, 24 or 25 years and he’s a great guy. And even if my husband said, ‘you can’t vote for Paul,’ I would have.”

Primary Election

Speaking of Steinke, a Democratic nominee for the Council-at-Large seat, Susan Sullivan, 67, a community activist touted the former general manager of the Reading Terminal Market for the position he ultimately lost out in.

“I’ve lived in Philly for 20 years and I’ve gotten to know him over the years and I work part-time at the Reading Terminal so I know he’s done a great job there and I think he would do a great job on the council,” Sullivan said.

Outside of the Philadelphia Senior Center, which housed the polls for 5th Ward, 22nd Division, Sullivan was “trying to drum up business” as she puts it. By 5:30 p.m., the division had accumulated 157 votes.

Along with Steinke, Sullivan also backed Jim Kenney, whom she said shared similar facial features with her late father.

“I’ve been a supporter of Jim Kenney for about 10 years. In fact, I even mentioned I had hoped he would have run for mayor at the time he told me Mike [Nutter] was running,” Sullivan said. “So, yes, I was really excited when he ran.”

Late in the afternoon of the May 19 primary, Jim Kenney works to secure the next generation of voters. (Photo Credit: Matt Cassidy)

Late in the afternoon of the May 19 primary, Jim Kenney works to secure the next generation of voters. (Photo Credit: Matt Cassidy)

The Senior Center would also be Kenney’s last official stop of the day before he headed to his Election Night Event at Vie, where he would give his eventual victor’s speech.

One reporter asked Kenney if his battery was running low due to such a long day.

“Nope, I haven’t felt exhausted ever,” Kenney said. “There’s times during the course of the day where it’s a little tiring but other than that it’s fine. [It’s] a little warm today for this time of year.”

“A bit humid, it feels like we’re at the beach,” the reporter said.

“That’s next,” Kenney said.

For a lifelong Philadelphian, like Kenney, heading to the shore for a victory lap is the equivalent of “I’m going to Disney World!”

This story was originally produced for, a division of the Temple University School of Media & Communication’s Journalism Department. It was never published on the aforementioned site.

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