Election Day Sees Long Lines, High Turnout at the Polls

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From left: Barbara Halpern, Jeff Braff and Maria Romanach work at the Albert M. Greenfield School polling location. | Selah Maya Zighelboim

By 7:20 a.m. on Election Day, more than about 100 people were lined up at St. Anthony’s Senior Residences in Graduate Hospital.

Under a gray, chilly sky — and then rain pouring down — Philadelphians showed up to do their civic duty and vote. According to some of the voters there, the line that morning was longer than it had been since the 2016 presidential election. Many waited easily half an hour to vote.

Every congressional district seat is up for grabs, along with incumbent Gov. Tom Wolf’s seat, incumbent Lt. Gov. Mike Stack’s seat and incumbent Sen. Bob Casey’s seat. (Stack lost his primary and so is not on the ballot for this election.)

In addition, there are a few local Jews on the ballot. Jeff Bartos is the Republican nominee for lieutenant governor, and Bryan Leib is the Republican nominee for the 3rd Congressional District.

Rachel Mark and Samy Belfer, a couple who belong to Mekor Habracha and had their baby with them, lined up at about 8 a.m. at St. Anthony’s to vote.

“[In 2016, the line] was down the block, but [this line] is longer than [at] the primaries earlier this year,” Mark said.

The two declined to say who they’ll be voting for, but they listed health care, immigration, paid parental leave, Israel and welfare reform among the issues they care about most.

“It’s nice to see people this early lining up,” Belfer added.

Early voting results in other states have shown high turnout numbers, and it doesn’t seem like Pennsylvania is bucking that trend. Committeepeople working at St. Anthony’s on Nov. 6 confirmed the observation.

“This is a long line compared to previous years,” said Jacob Tulsky, a Democratic Party committeeperson in the 30th Ward who is Jewish. He said this is the fourth year he’s been working at this Graduate Hospital location as a committeeperson. “The only comparable one was 2016 since I’ve been working here.”

Tulsky said he hopes a “referendum on Trump” is what’s motivating the turnout. With this election, he wants the Democratic Party to take back the House of Representatives and re-elect Wolf.

“Turnout seems to be a little heavier than most midterms,” said Brett Benton, another Democratic Party committeeperson in the 30th Ward who is also Jewish. “When we opened, there was already a line.”

Michele Rubinsky, a young Jewish voter in the line that morning, cited homelessness and the cost of living as some of the issues she cares about most. She got back late the night before from San Francisco but still showed up at 8 a.m. to voice her vote.

“I’ve never voted at this polling place,” she said, “but it’s the longest line I’ve ever voted in.”

There were long lines at other polling places in the Philadelphia area that morning.

In Narberth, voters began lining up in the municipal building as the polls were opening at 7 a.m. More than 50 people cast their vote in the first 15 minutes.

A few miles away at Penn Wynne Elementary School in Lower Merion, a steady procession of voters turned out.

“Turnout’s been amazing — it’s very encouraging,” said Elaine Roseman of Wynnewood, a Democratic poll volunteer. “People are very passionate on both sides.”

Oak Hill voters cited a familiar litany of reasons why they went to the polls.

Democrat Amy Rubenstein said the political climate has impacted her political beliefs and noted her disdain for President Donald Trump. She also said she believes more women are needed in politics.

Fellow Democrats Bernice Rosenberg, 91, and Susan Bolno, 71, said health care was the most important issue. Bolno said she is also concerned about poverty and cited the need for the two parties to work together to solve problems.

One Republican, Paul Smith, 79, also said it was important for the two parties to work together.

By noon, the lines had started to dwindle. At Albert M. Greenfield School, there were just a handful of voters.

Susan Halpern was one of them. She was there with her 16-year-old twin daughters, Zoe and Sophie Millstein, who are juniors at the Julia R. Masterman Laboratory and Demonstration School.

“We want to experience learning about voting so, when we’re 18, we know what to do,” Zoe Millstein said.

The twins listed school shootings, as well the one at Tree of Life*Or L’Simcha synagogue in Pittsburgh, among some of the issues they’re passionate about. They also care about LGBTQ issues and women’s rights.

“A lot of issues are affecting students,” Sophie Millstein said.

Halpern said she’s worried about her children, especially in light of rampant anti-Semitism. They’ll head off to college soon, and Halpern is concerned about the anti-Semitism they might encounter.

She was excited about voting for Casey. Though she missed the morning lines, she said she had heard about them.

“People want change,” Halpern said. “They want to make sure Democrats get back in and stay in.”

In the 13th Division of the 8th Ward, about 220 people generally vote in midterm elections, said Jeff Braff, the judge of elections whose job it is to oversee the process, handle provisional ballots and deal with other issues that may crop up. In 2008, when Barack Obama ran for president the first time around, 375 people voted.

In comparison, 243 people had voted by 12:30 p.m.

“Midterms don’t generally get a big turnout,” Braff said. “We have surpassed [the average].”

For this election, Braff said he believes he is seeing an increase in young and first-time voters.

“Our numbers are exploding,” said Braff, a member of Temple Beth Zion-Beth Israel. “It’s not scientific, but anecdotally the number of young people who’ve come to the polls — a good number didn’t know how to vote, which suggests to me that they’re first-time voters.”

Managing Editor Andy Gotlieb and freelance writer Barbara Gotlieb contributed to this story.

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