PHILADELPHIA After final rulings Monday on more than two dozen ballot challenges, the May 20 primary election will feature contested races for committee member in just 257 Philadelphia voting divisions - barely 15 percent of the 1,686 citywide.

City election officials counted 236 contested races for spots as Democratic committee people and 21 contests on the Republican side - voting divisions where at least three people are going after two seats.

In parts of South Philadelphia and the lower Northeast, allied slates of committee candidates are fighting with each other.

But far more common are situations where voters may be able to elect themselves as committee members with write-in votes alone. There are 441 voting divisions with fewer than two Democratic candidates, the City Commissioners Office reported, and 1,439 with fewer than two Republican candidates.

The committeemen and women are often described as the foot soldiers of each party: the people who distribute sample ballots in their neighborhoods before each election, maintain a supply of voter-registration forms for new residents, help the homebound with absentee-ballot applications, and provide assistance getting to the polls for voters who need it.

Often the committee people recruit the poll workers who will staff voting places on Election Day.

And, depending on the neighborhood, they may be the first line of communication with city government, the people to whom neighbors turn trying to get street trees trimmed, potholes filled, or streetlights repaired.

To get onto the primary ballot as a candidate, it takes 10 valid signatures from registered party voters inside each division. Especially for Republican candidates, finding 10 people with the right party registration can be a high hurdle.

Citywide, only 788 Republicans filed for committeeman seats, less than half the number of voting divisions.

Many are apparently planning to write in their own names on May 20 - an easier process than tracking down 10 Republicans in their neighborhoods.

Whether they're on the ballot or not, the top two party vote-getters in each division will meet after the election to choose party ward leaders in each of the city's 69 wards. In June, about a month after the election, the newly elected ward leaders will meet to choose party leaders citywide.