Lisa Deeley and Omar Sabir have won the race to become two of Philadelphia’s three top elections officials.
With 97 percent of precincts reporting results shortly after 11 p.m. — Deeley and Sabir were leading and all but certain to win the two Democratic seats for Philadelphia city commissioner. They are all but assured of winning in November to become the city’s top elections officials.
It was a victory for the party establishment, with the Philadelphia Democratic Party endorsing both candidates amid a larger field than the city has seen in decades and criticism of the office and Deeley, the incumbent.
“We’re happy to say that the voters of Philadelphia have spoken, and they gave me another four years,” said Deeley, with 21 percent of the vote. “I have a new partner in Omar, and I look forward to four great years. We’re going to work together, we’re going to do great stuff, and I’m sure Omar’s gonna bring a lot of great ideas to the table.”
Sabir agreed, saying he was excited to work with Deeley, especially on expanding community outreach to increase voter turnout.
“I’m ecstatic right now,” said Sabir, with about 24 percent of the vote, before referring to his ballot number: “They pushed 35 and felt alive!”
Kahlil Williams, a well-funded challenger who was nevertheless the underdog after the city endorsed Deeley and Sabir, had about 16 percent of the vote.
Once Sabir joins Deeley in office in January, they will be almost immediately put to work earning their salaries of more than $130,000 a year. (Deeley, as the current chair, receives an additional $10,000.)
On top of the usual work running elections, such as registering voters, training poll workers, and certifying election results, the commissioners will be responding to the roll-out of new voting machines this November and preparing for the April 2020 presidential primary and November 2020 presidential general election.
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“We need to get this right because we have an important election coming up in 2020,” Sabir said.
While their work is fundamentally important, the commissioners have in the past not drawn much attention.
But the office has been in the spotlight in recent years; one commissioner, Anthony Clark, has drawn sharp criticism for not showing up to work, while the other two, Deeley and Al Schmidt, have been accused of rushing a biased selection process when they chose new voting machines earlier this year. (Clark is retiring.)
A group of advocates for hand-marked paper ballots had vocally opposed Deeley’s reelection, and the other candidates agreed, criticizing the decision to purchase new touchscreen machines.
Schmidt, the Republican, was unopposed in today’s primary and can be challenged by an independent or third-party candidate in November. No party can win more than two seats, which in effect means Democrats take two seats and a Republican wins the third.
This year, 13 Democrats ran for the two seats, making it the largest number of candidates in decades.
The resulting jolt of energy to a traditionally sleepy race meant candidates were campaigning in ways they never had to before — including taking to television for what appears to be the first time. Williams’ campaign reached into its deep pockets to put TV ads out two weeks before the election, and Deeley’s campaign followed.
Sabir, who lost a commissioner bid in 2015, is the brother of Ryan Boyer, the head of the powerful Laborers District Council union. Deeley is in her first term as commissioner. Previously, she worked as a top aide to Alan Butkovitz when he was in the state House of Representatives and later, as City Controller. She worked for Bobby Henon in City Council before winning the city commissioners election in 2015.