Half of the hubbub this morning outside the Free Library of Philadelphia’s Frankford branch — one of 1,686 polling places citywide — was the sort that might make a patriotic person smile: Red, white, and blue-shirted volunteers greeting incoming voters, outgoing voters patting “I Voted” stickers onto their chests, and campaign signs for candidates both illustrious and obscure bobbing in the warm breeze.
But the other half? Passers-by bypassing the polls.
“I don’t got the time to vote; I’m heading to my job,” said Wayne Beckwith, 30, of Logan, as he strode past.
Beckwith is far from alone in regarding his civic duty as … well, civic doody. Statistics show that most Americans don’t vote.
The arithmetic of apathy
Of nearly 225 million Americans eligible to vote, just two thirds of them, or 146 million, are registered, according to the Pew Research Center and census data. Fewer voters cast ballots in primaries than elections (primaries draw less than a third of registered voters to the polls), even though primary voters select who will run for president.
In 2012, for example, less than 28 million Americans voted in the primaries, compared to 129.1 million voters who cast ballots in the presidential election, Pew found.
Some local residents had explanations no more complicated than indifference.
“I’m just not interested in voting no more,” said Dorothy Williams, 90, of Chester.
“I just don’t care,” agreed Dolores Regalbuto of South Philadelphia. “I’m not going to vote this year, and I honestly don’t want to vote for another five years, because I’m still only 19 years old and I live with my parents. So whatever the president chooses to do in this world is not gonna matter to me, as of right now.”
Herbert Foster, 40, of Downington, has never voted.
Others offered excuses that seemed the electoral equivalent of “the dog ate my homework.”
“I don’t plan on voting because I didn’t register this time, but I do plan on voting later on throughout the year for the rest of the election,” said Sara Nelson, 22, of South Philadelphia, who blamed “work and school and stuff” for forgetting to register.
A switch in party loyalties will keep William Powers home today.
“I’m a Trump supporter, and I never changed over from Democrat to Republican,” said Powers, 52, of South Philadelphia.
And today’s primaries are just another nagging reminder to Victor Dyundik of something on his to-do list.
“I am from the Ukraine. I’m here 12 years, and my whole family is a citizen except for me. I’m always working, too busy,” said Dyundik, 35, of Bensalem. “But I am going to start becoming a citizen,” he vowed.
For others, snubbing the polls served as their objection to a system with which they’ve grown disillusioned.
“I am not voting, because I think the three (leading) candidates are complete morons,” said John Ferrari, 44, of Packer Park, referring to Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders. “All three candidates I don’t think are qualified to run this country properly. No matter which way you vote, it’s going to be wrong. It’s impossible to find an honest politician. Instead of voting, I will be down the Navy Yard, riding my bike, enjoying this warm weather.”
Malcolm Clark agreed with that sentiment, as he walked this morning just down the street from Independence Hall, where the country’s forefathers enshrined Americans’ right to vote in 1787 (at least, white men’s right to vote).
“I don’t believe I have any real say in it; the candidates are pre-picked,” said Clark, 34, of South Philadelphia. “I also don’t really believe anything is getting done for my community. The candidates will just say a bunch of things, and they’re reeling us in and reeling us in. And then what they promised never gets done.”
John Falcone, 60, a registered Republican from South Philadelphia, purposely didn’t vote this morning and said he doesn’t think he’ll bother to do so tonight.
“The choices are not good. I don’t like Hillary. Trump, he’s a problem. I don’t like Cruz. I haven’t heard one that wants to get rid of the IRS,” he said, adding that abolishing the IRS was a priority for him. “The primary doesn’t really matter anyhow. November is when you vote,” he said, joking: “I’m gonna vote for my cat.”