Skip to content
Link copied to clipboard

Another ballot question: Too many?

Eight proposals remain for city voters. Concerns have been raised over time and appropriateness.

Better take a cup of coffee with you into the voting booth Tuesday.

Not only will Philadelphia voters have to pick from 12 categories of elected officials, they will have to pore through an additional eight ballot questions.

That is, if they have the stamina.

The city's election watchdog group - the Committee of Seventy - warns that the abundance of ballot questions could lead to longer lines, heightened impatience and "ballot fatigue," said Chris Sheridan, the committee's director of voting rights and election reform.

"Voters get tired," Sheridan said.

The last time there were so many questions - nine in the 2003 primary - voter participation dropped off with each question, committee records show.

Some election observers questioned whether some items this year - such as a call to support a troop pullout from Iraq in 2007 - belonged on the ballot.

"Regardless of if you're in favor or opposed to the war in Iraq, that is not something that belongs in the City Charter," said Ellen Kaplan, policy director for the Committee of Seventy. "More care needs to be taken to put on the ballot only questions that deserve to be on the ballot."

In addition to the Iraq question, voters will be asked to amend the City Charter to:

Create a commission to rewrite the zoning code.

Organize a youth commission, composed of members ages 12 to 23, to advise the mayor and City Council.

Allow elected city officials to run for office without quitting their day jobs.

Add qualifications for the six appointed members on the City Planning Commission.

Give the City Planning Commission more time to give recommendations on pending legislation.

"Urge" the stopping of real estate tax assessment increases using the so-called "full valuation" of property.

Voters will also be asked to raise $130 million in bond funding to spend on transit, streets and sanitation, municipal buildings, parks, recreation and museums, and economic and community development.

A question is placed on the ballot in one of two ways: Either City Council suggests it, or - as in the case of the thwarted casino question - citizens get more than 20,000 signatures in support of a question, with at least nine Council members endorsing it.

The casino referendum would have asked voters whether the City Charter should be changed to prevent casinos within 1,500 feet of neighborhoods, churches, schools or playgrounds.

That question would have been first on the list but was challenged in court and removed.

Some groups involved in ballot issues worry that the question clutter will discourage voters from answering all of them.

Karen Black, a consultant for Zoning Matters!, a voter-education initiative funded by the William Penn Foundation, fears that voters won't get to Question 6 - creating a commission to rewrite the zoning code, the first step toward remapping the city and making it easier to promote growth.

Philadelphia's zoning code, more than a half-century old, has 55 designations for land use. Chicago's revised code has eight.

Philadelphia lags in updating its zoning system. Other big cities, such New York, Pittsburgh, Baltimore and Boston, already have simplified their codes and remapped neighborhoods.

"It's not the sexiest issue," Black said, "not the kind of issue where you say, 'That's why I'm going to vote!' But it's such a good-government issue.

"So if you care about neighborhoods, stay for a couple of minutes and get to No. 6," she said.