Philadelphia Voter Turnout Was Bad, But It Could Have Been Worse

About 25.5 percent of registered voters showed up.

We all know voter turnout in Philadelphia has been bad — like historically bad.

The 27 percent of voters who turned out in a competitive primary election this spring was the lowest total in the city’s modern history for an election of that kind.

Prognosticators assumed turnout would be worse — perhaps much worse — in Tuesday’s election, given that the marquee mayoral race was a non-contest, with Democrat Jim Kenney facing overmatched GOP nominee Melissa Murray Bailey in a city where registered Republicans are outnumbered by Democrats 7-1.

And turnout was bad. It looks like 25.5 percent of registered Philadelphia voters cast ballots. But it could have been worse, and many were expecting that it would be.

Four years ago, when Mayor Nutter was re-elected, just 20 percent of registered voters showed up. Nearly 50,000 more voters turned out Tuesday then did in the city’s 2007 general election.

But that’s still a paltry figure compared to earlier mayoral elections in Philadelphia. As recently as 2003, when then-Republican Sam Katz challenged John Street, fully 50 percent of registered voters cast ballots. In 1995, when the invincible Ed Rendell was running for re-election against sacrificial lamb Joe Rocks, 39 percent of voters showed up, and everybody knew that race wasn’t remotely competitive either.

Those were different times. In recent years, turnout has plummeted in Philadelphia, and declined in other big cities as well. In this context, 25.5 percent is depressing, but not cataclysmic.

So, why was turnout somewhat-less-terrible than feared? Perhaps it was the impeccable weather. Or the ultra high stakes of the state Supreme Court race, which was also on the ballot. Or Johnny Doc’s Local 98 foot soldiers, out there pounding the pavement for his Supreme Court candidate brother. Or maybe people dragged themselves to the polls for a 1-in-250,000 chance at $10,000. Or maybe it was the chance to vote for Council newcomers like Derek Green, Helen Gym and Allan Domb.

Whatever it was, the city could use more of that sauce. A lot, lot more.