Updated 8 p.m.
Even in an off-year election, it’s still important to exercise your civic duty. Especially in the Garden State, which holds its elections in odd years to focus on local issues.
From Pennsylvania’s controversial new voting machines and Philly’s entire City Council up for a vote, to all 80 seats open in New Jersey’s General Assembly, here’s what we’re seeing and hearing out at the polls.
(Scroll down for more info on the candidates and what you need to know to cast a ballot today.)
In Haverford, Pa., where voters will decide whether Delaware County Council will be controlled by Democrats for the first time in history, election officials said anecdotally they felt turnout was “unusually strong.” Resident Ann Weir, a Republican, came out to “not have Democrats in there,” while Susan Nasuti was more confident this year that voters would “make it blue” than in past years.
Kim Pepper of Haverford was born and raised a Republican — but switched to Democrat this year. She said the ramifications of climate change, and how it will affect her grandchildren, spurred the change. “We need good leadership as far as I’m concerned, people that will fight for us and not for themselves,” Pepper said.
In Delco’s Upper Darby, poll workers also described a pretty strong turnout, as constituents vote for both mayor and County Council.
In Philly’s Kensington neighborhood, lifelong resident Wilfredo Maldonado said he’s voting because “poor people like him” are being pushed out of the neighborhood. He didn’t cast a vote for mayor at all, he said, because he doesn’t like Jim Kenney.
Mayor Kenney himself cast a vote this morning, and was pretty happy with the experience of using Philly’s new voting machines. “That was great, pretty easy, actually,” he told WHYY. “I was a little concerned about how they would work out the first time out, and they seem to be fine, a pretty easy process.”
To use the new touchscreen voting machines, which cost the city about $30 million, voters need to insert a blank paper ballot, which then gets printed with your selections — and things haven’t been entirely smooth with the new devices. At Towey Rec Center in Kensington, Judge of Elections Jacqueline Beltrán said they had problems with one machine, which took about two hours to fix.
Some Philadelphia voters told WHYY they felt poll watchers — partisan representatives allowed to monitor voting — had overstepped their bounds in attempting to show people how to use the new machines. “I don’t need your help,” one Kensington voter said he told someone who stepped into the booth with him. Others agreed with Kenney that the machines were easy to use. “Being able to verify the printed ballot is awesome,” said Manayunk resident Mary Stewart.
In Germantown, resident Jorge Brito said paper for the machines had still not arrived as of 7:30 a.m., a half-hour after the polls opened. That led to a line of a dozen or so folks, who finally began casting ballots around 7:35, he said. And in Mt. Airy, 72-year-old voter Karin was somewhat confused by the new system, which she compared to a Wawa ordering kiosk. That tracks with what Nicetown voter Andrea Akins experienced — the 48-year-old said the machines worked fine for her, but “I had to step in and kind of walk my mom through it.”
In Montgomery County, Chief Clerk Lee Soltysiak said constituents reported ballot scanning problems at some polling locations. He said the issue stemmed from the way election stubs were removed from the ballot — and it has already been resolved. Any ballots that were not scanned were placed in a separate ballot box, and will be counted later today, he said.
Montgomery County has appealed to the Department of State that the paper ballot stubs are problematic. “They cause confusion, they slow things down, and they cause technical problems,” Soltysiak said.
Back in Philly, Roxborough resident Doris Heath was one of the early voters at the Cook-Wissahickon Elementary polling place. She came out to vote for “my mayor” Jim Kenney, she said. Heath feels her neighborhood is on the decline, with people being “imported” from other parts of the city, but she nonetheless voted for incumbent Councilmember Curtis Jones — who she said comes from “a wonderful family.”
Victor Zajac, 65, also of Roxborough, does not think Kenney has done a good job, so he cast a vote for Republican candidate Billy Ciancaglini. The Vietnam Veteran cited too much litter, too many potholes and too many tax increases as reasons he voted for change. For City Council at large, he pulled levers for Republicans Dan Tinney and incumbent Councilmember David Oh.
John Adams, a Nicetown committeeperson, says he split his vote for City Council at-large between Republican David Oh and Working Families Party member Kendra Brooks. Meanwhile, Janice and Richard Test, both 68-year-old lifelong Democrats, cast ballots for both WFP candidates for City Council at-large. They said their votes were based in large part on the endorsement of Elizabeth Warren, whom they very much love.
Brooks herself cast a vote in Nicetown with her entire family in tow. She said she was feeling optimistic. “It was always about organizing the movement, and changing the status quo,” she said. Considering what she sees as good turnout, she said, “in my book we’ve already won.”
In Northeast Philadelphia, some residents are deciding to stay with Councilmember Bobby Henon — despite his federal indictment connected to labor leader John “Johnny Doc” Dougherty earlier this year. “There’s not much of a choice,” said Hope Herbert of Holmesburg. “I’d rather go with the devil I know as opposed to the devil I don’t know.”
Stephen Uchniat, a Mayfair Republican who said he splits his votes between parties sometimes, said he was a no-go on the indicted councilmember. “I know Henon is probably going to court next year and might go to jail,” Uchniat said. “Am I gonna flock here to support someone who might be a con? I don’t know. I didn’t.”
For the Philadelphians in the house, our friends and cubicle buddies at Billy Penn put together their handy, no-frills Procrastinator’s Guide to the 2019 city election.
One of the most competitive races to watch is City Council At-Large. The city’s Democratic voter registration edge means five of the seven seats will likely go to the Democratic nominees. Billy Penn’s Max Marin breaks down how the Republicans in the two remaining seats are defending against a significant challenge from the Working Families Party.
Philadelphia voters will also be asked three ballot questions, including whether the city should change the threshold for RFPs to give more local businesses a chance, and whether Philly should take out another $185 million bond. Billy Penn unpacks those in layman’s terms.
The third question will appear on all ballots in Pennsylvania and it’s the most controversial. That one, known as Marsy’s Law, is about whether Pennsylvania should amend its constitution to give more rights to crime victims. The ACLU challenged it in court and last week, a judge ruled the votes can’t be counted or certified until the legal case has played out. WHYY contributor Meir Rinde breaks down the debate on a recent episode of The Why.
New Jersey has just one ballot question this November — and it’s a yea or nay on tax breaks for the state’s veterans. NJ Spotlight has the details.
Voters in Delco will decide whether the County Council turns blue for the first time in about 150 years. Three of the five seats on the council are up for grabs. The other two seats are held by Democrats, who won in 2017, so if even one Democrat wins today, the county will be governed by a Democratic majority. At debates around the county this fall, Democrats have argued they will bring change in the form of transparency and accountability, with a focus on creating a county health department and deprivatizing the county prison. Republicans have promised not to raise taxes and say Democrats will do so if elected.
Depending on which county you live in, you may or may not have heard a lot about new voting machines in Pennsylvania. In the aftermath of Russian meddling in the 2016 election, Harrisburg made it a priority to see that voting machines statewide are secure — and leave a paper trail. WHYY’s suburban reporter Dana Bate looked at what changes you’ll see in Philadelphia, Bucks, Montgomery, Delaware, and Chester counties.
Much to the chagrin of civic engagement enthusiasts, we all know the reality is many of us know very little about the city and state judicial races. WHYY’s Aaron Moselle goes over how quite often, high-stakes judicial seats are chosen with very little knowledge. This year, Philadelphians can pick judges for Municipal Court and Court of Common Pleas. Two statewide spots on the Superior Court — one below the highest court — are also open.
Check back throughout the day for updates from the polls and election results.
To report any issues during Election Day, you can call the Pennsylvania voter hotline at 1-877-VOTESPA or for New Jersey complaints, 1-877-NJVOTER.