It’s Election Day in Philadelphia: Here’s What You Need to Know

From poll locations and hours to what to do if you see something suspicious, we’ve got you covered.

philadelphia primary election

Photo by JasonDoiy/Getty Images.

In Democratic Party–dominated Philly, odd-year general elections are often sleep-inducing affairs. Because the big-ticket items, like the mayoral race, are effectively decided during the Democratic primary, there’s usually not much left by way of suspense when you get to the general. That would seem to affect voter turnout: 25.5 percent of registered voters cast ballots four years ago, and just 20 percent did so four years before that, in 2011.

That’s a pretty embarrassing recent track record for the city that, you know, birthed this whole American democracy thing. But there’s reason to think the numbers might change this year. Kendra Brooks and Nicolas O’Rourke, two candidates from the progressive Working Families Party, are vying to become the first people elected to City Council at-large seats from outside the Democratic or Republican parties. Tuesday, in other words, could mark a fundamental shift in how third-parties approach local politics.

Sufficiently intrigued? Now here’s a list of everything else you could possibly need to know when you cast your ballot on Election Day.

When and where do I vote?

The polls are open on Tuesday from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. As long as you’re in line by the time the clock strikes 8, you’ll still be able to cast a ballot.

Gone are the days of fumbling with your voter registration card to determine where you need to go to vote. The Pennsylvania Department of State maintains a site where you can input your address and get your polling place. The Philadelphia City Commissioners website has a similar tool. Or if you just prefer a human touch, you can also try calling the Philadelphia Board of Elections at 215-686-3469.

What am I even voting on?

City Council has gotten the vast majority of the attention, but there’s also the race for mayor, city commissioner, and judge of the State Superior Court. And don’t forget about ballot questions — including a proposed constitutional amendment for the so-called crime victim rights legislation “Marsy’s Law” — either. You’ll want to read up on all the candidates and issues in our No-B.S. Guide to the election.

Meanwhile, you can input your address and generate a sample ballot here so there are no surprises when you make your way to the polls.

No, literally: What am I even voting on?

You mean “voting on,” as in the machines on which you’ll be doing the voting? That process will in fact look a bit different this year: This marks first election in which you’ll use new touch screen machines to vote. (So long, glitchy, blinking red dot machines of yore.)

These new ExpressVoteXL Machines, which cost about $8,000 a pop, arrived with a side of controversy. City Controller Rebecca Rhynhart criticized the bidding process, and in a recent investigation, her office decried a “lack of overall transparency in the procurement.” (The manufacturer of the ExpressVoteXL was fined $2.9 million by the city for failing to properly disclose some of its lobbying activities relating to the contract, including making campaign contributions to two of the City Commissioners who ended up supporting the bid.)

Gov. Tom Wolf is the main reason we have new voting machines at all. He’s been overseeing a statewide initiative to modernize and secure Pennsylvania elections, mandating that all machines produce a verifiable paper ballot. Here’s a quick tutorial on how Philly’s machines work.

What if I see something fishy at the polls?

There’s a special hotline for you to call through the city’s Election Task Force at 215–686–9641 if you spot something strange at the polls. You can also rest easy knowing that a total of 70 employees from the District Attorney’s Office will be out at polling places across the city, making sure there’s no malfeasance.

You may also submit a complaint through a Department of State form, or call its own election hotline at 1-877-868-3772.

Do I need ID to vote?

Not if you’ve voted at your polling place before. If you’re new to the polling place, you’ll have to show some proof of identity — but it doesn’t have to be a photo ID. Acceptable forms of identification include a driver’s license, passport, student ID, voter registration card, or utility bill with your name and address.

If for some reason the election worker at your polling place says you’re not in the poll book, have them call the Philadelphia County Board of Elections. You can always cast a provisional paper ballot, which means your vote will be counted later, as long as the city later confirms you were in fact eligible to vote in the election.

If you have any other questions about your rights as a voter, the nonpartisan Committee of Seventy publishes a useful guide in multiple languages as well.