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Watchdog group: ‘Abysmal’ turnout at polls

Where have all the voters gone?

Where have all the voters gone?

The polls are open for today's primary election in Philadelphia but few voters are turning out to cast ballots.

The absence of high profile races in an off-year election combined with the rain are considered the chief causes for the low turnout.

More than 100 candidates are on the ballots in Philadelphia and its suburbs. The polls close at 8 p.m.

"Turnout is just abysmal," said Ellen Kaplan, vice-president and policy director for the Committee of Seventy, a watchdog group.

How dismal?

The Committee said turnout sampled at seven wards across four council districts showed it was under 10 percent as of 10:30 a.m. In the First District, one polling place reported turnout of 4.8 percent, another in the Second reported, 3.4 percent, and a polling place in the Seventh reported 1.7 percent.

Even with the low turnout, some voters are reporting problems at the polls.

A variety of voters have called to complain about electioneering and "intimidation" by campaign workers handing out leaflets too close to polling places, said Kaplan.

The weather also may be prompting campaign workers to move too close the polls to get out of the rain, she said. State law says campaign workers must stay at least 10 feet from the entrance to the polling station.

The most complaints are coming from voters in the Second, Seventh and Eighth council districts, where competitive racs are under way.

In the Seventh District, the campaign of incumbent Maria Quiñones Sánchez claimed that at some polling places in the 43rd ward, Democratic officials were inside the polls distributing tee-shirts and other election materials favoring Danny Savage.

"Our volunteers are visiting polling places to remind polling place officials that no one is allowed to wear campaign gear inside polling places but voters. And no one is permitted to distribute literature within 10 feet of where the voting takes place," Kaplan said in an email.

Meanwhile, some Savage supporters in the same ward say some polling place officials are "acting with bias" in favor of Quiñones Sánchez, Kaplan added.

She said that in the Eighth District, where seven candidates are competing to fill the seat held by Donna Reed Miller, electioneering at the Pennsylvania School for the Deaf in Germantown was so "fierce" one mother took her child home from school.

The weather forecast in the meantime calls for rain throughout the day.

In Philadelphia, Mayor Michael Nutter is running for the Democratic nomination for a second term against T. Milton Street Sr., a former state senator and brother of ex-Mayor John F. Street.

Although he aired no television commercials, Nutter ran radio ads in the campaign's closing days, participated in a Rittenhouse Square "pub-crawl" and trolley tour with some of his endorsed Council candidates, and mailed voters' fliers. At least one flier assailed Street, who spent 26 months in federal prison for failing to pay taxes, as "one of Philadelphia's biggest tax cheats."

Street's campaign featured several motorcades through city neighborhoods, and he has attacked Nutter as "ignoring" the neediest populations - ex-offenders and poor people.

Two Republican candidates, John Featherman and Karen Brown, also are running for mayor. While one will win the GOP nomination, they have little chance of leading the city given the 6-1 ratio of registered Democrats to Republicans in the city.

Far more contested are the races for City Council, which next year will include at least five new faces because of retirements. Four of those are for district council seats; one is for an at-large Republican position.

City voters will also elect a host of new judges and the first new sheriff since 1987. In addition, the race for three city commissioners spots is competitive for both parties, with challengers looking to oust longtime incumbents.

In an effort to prevent any voting problems on election day, District Attorney Seth Williams says his office will have about 70 assistant district attorneys and Philadelphia County detectives in mobile units to respond to any potential problems at the polls.

Williams pointed to the Eighth District City Council race as a site of potential problems.

In the four suburban counties, voters will cast ballots for all countywide offices, including county commissioners, sheriff and district attorney, a handful of judgeships, and countless school board and municipal races.

Most of the party races are uncontested. In Montgomery County, District Attorney Risa Vetri Ferman is seeking a second four-year term but faces no challenger for the Republican nomination. Nor are Democrats running.

The two most significant contested races are:

The Republican nominations for Bucks County commissioner, where four candidates are vying for two positions. The four are Charles H. Martin, Robert G. Loughery, Andrew L. Warren, and Jay Russell.

The GOP race for sheriff in Montgomery County, where Eileen Whalon Behr and Robert J. Durante seek the nomination.

The only statewide races on the primary ballot are for one vacancy each on Commonwealth and Superior Courts.