By Damian Burchardt
BU News Service
PHILADELPHIA, Pa. – Pennsylvania has long been touted as one of the main battleground states of the 2020 U.S. presidential election, and Philadelphia fully embraced that mantle Tuesday.
Ballots in the more blue-leaning parts of the city came in big numbers, providing Democratic candidate Joe Biden with a major boost in the fight for the state’s 20 electoral votes that could decide the race for the White House.
That Philadelphia County would lean toward Biden is not a surprise. Hillary Clinton beat President Donald Trump in Philadelphia 82% to 15% in 2016. But for Biden, the turnout in major cities is crucial for the state to turn blue, considering Clinton lost Pennsylvania by about 44,000 votes four years ago.
Philadelphia voters seemed to have listened to the former vice president’s pleas encouraging them to cast a ballot. Despite a low number of in-person voters, several divisions in Philadelphia’s downtown wards either were expected to, or already did by mid-afternoon, exceed the 2016 numbers – in big part thanks to the high return of mail-in ballots.
”Everybody was motivated,” said Michael Guinn, a judge of elections at a St. George Greek Orthodox station in Center City who has performed the role since 1984.
With Biden campaign memorabilia scattered around the city and Trump’s red “Make America Great Again” slogan minimal, similar notions dominated in polling stations going west toward Philadelphia’s City Hall. Many stations saw the turnout passing 70% before 4 p.m., according to John Pcsolar and Neil Pratt, poll workers in two downtown Philadelphia polling stations.
Both poll workers and voters said they saw no disturbance to the voting process, despite Trump’s claims of voter fraud in Philadelphia. A “Vote Here” sign was torn down at the St. George Greek Orthodox church in a lone incident, but volunteer Thomas Combs believed it was not politically motivated.
However, Combs and Guinn said they were aware of the threat of voter intimidation or system hacking, although they did not think the issues would affect their district. Philadelphia residents also said casting a ballot didn’t take much time since mail-in voting was the preferred method in the area. Guinn and other poll workers said that counting mail-in ballots could take a few days. Multiple parts of Pennsylvania could not start counting until after the polls closed at 8 p.m.
In the historically Republican Chester County – which Trump lost in 2016, receiving 43% of the votes – local polling stations saw a busier election day with many of the voters turning up to cast their ballots in person.
Down I-95, with a couple of Trump-supporting billboards lauding his “law and order” mantra along the interstate, Angela Gilbert, judge of election at the Upper Chichester polling station, and her counterpart in Linwood, Josie Anios, said their posts endured a busy shift.
Anios added that the line of voters kept forming in front of the doors throughout the day. However, both said that they expected the turnout to be high. Just past 6 p.m., Anios said that the number of votes had already gone way beyond the 2016 totals.
In Upper Chichester, Gilbert mentioned an instance of a voter refusing to wear a mask as the sole incident of the day. Anios said the station had to deal with two incidents, although she refused to describe them in detail.
Despite encouraging numbers for Biden and the voting process proceeding smoothly, Philadelphia voters approached Election Day with mixed feelings.
Biden voter J.D. Hall, who stood outside the National Constitution Center where Biden held his last Pennsylvania event of the day before returning to his hometown of Wilmington, Del., said he felt anxiety creeping in after feeling fairly confident of a positive outcome last week. It’s “PTSD from 2016,” he said.
But Marci Edwards, a voter from Florida who decided to spend election day in Philadelphia, said that unlike in her home state, she was expecting a landslide Biden victory in Pennsylvania. Her belief was formed, she claimed, after encountering an overwhelming number of the Democrat’s supporters during her trip to Pennsylvania – even in the western, rural, parts of the state.
Edwards said she knew she wanted to be in Philadelphia on election day after the passing of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
“When she died, another piece of democracy died,” she said. Edwards wanted to show her children, C.J. and Trent, that “there’s still democracy” and decided to head up north, to its “birthplace.”
Meanwhile, Gary Eichelger – a voter donning an “All aboard the Trump train” cap outside of a downtown Philadelphia polling station – said he expected the results in Pennsylvania would be “close.”