Tuesday’s Pennsylvania Primary will be remembered for the dry run of the Commonwealth’s
Voter ID law, a few surprises from the voters, and the shenanigans of the 186th District.
By Denise Clay
ABOVE PHOTO: FOR DAMON K. ROBERTS, a candidate State Representative in the 186th Legislative District, Election Night ended with a visit from the Philadelphia Police. Due to a mix-up regarding pay for campaign workers, police were called to break up a near melee. The workers were due to be paid by the end of the week, sources say.
The offices of the Committee of Seventy in Center City Philadelphia were abuzz on Tuesday as the Commonwealth used the Pennsylvania Primary as its dry run for its new Voter ID law.
But while the prospect of being asked for a picture ID that you had never been asked for before rankled some who went to the voting booths on Tuesday, that was nothing compared to the tensions that flared in a few of the races, especially one in South Philadelphia.
Because elections are fraught with such things as polling places that open late, election judges meeting with resistance when its time to be seated, and other violations, Ellen Mattleman Kaplan, vice president and policy director for the Committee of Seventy, knew that Election Day was going to be busy.
But because the watchdog group that monitors elections is part of the Pennsylvania Voter ID Coalition, a group that’s attempting to educate Pennsylvanians about the new law requiring that you bring a state-sponsored photo ID to the polls in order to be able to vote, Tuesday took on a special significance, Kaplan said.
“We’re trying to capture as many voters as we can so that we can tell them about the law and what they’ll need to do,” she said. “What we found was that while polling place officials had to ask for ID, it had to be explained to voters that not having ID wouldn’t keep them from voting [on Tuesday]. But in November, that won’t be the case.”
A big part of the Election Day education effort was reminding voters that getting the papers needed for that ID won’t be a short-term process. So, rather than waiting until September or October to start it, you might want to do it now, Kaplan said.
“You can’t get a voter ID overnight,” she said. “It takes 14 weeks to get a birth certificate if you apply for it online. If you go to Birth Records, you will be able to get it in three hours. But it’s not something you can do at the last moment.”
Many voters, particularly senior citizens who had been coming to their polling places for decades, complained about the new requirement, saying that they shouldn’t be asked to prove who they are to people who already know them, sources said.
But if the request for ID isn’t made by a poll worker starting with the November elections, the worker may face fines or jail time according to the law.
While voter IDs might be important if you want to vote for president in November, if your desire is to vote for just your member of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, voters in some districts may have already done their civic duty.
Proving once again that it is still easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than it is to unseat an incumbent in Pennsylvania, several incumbent legislators beat off spirited challengers to remain in their seats..
In a race in which the words “school vouchers” came up more than once, Fatimah Loren Muhammad failed in her attempt to unseat State Rep. James Roebuck in the 188th District. Muhammad, the former director of the Intercultural Center at the University of Pennsylvania, came up a little more than 800 votes short in her contest to unseat Roebuck, who will begin his 28th year in office should he win re-election in November.
State Rep. Rosita Youngblood fought off Malik Boyd and Charisma Presley to retain her seat in the 198th District, State Rep. Vanessa Lowery Brown retains her seat in the after beating Wanda Logan, Audrey Blackwell-Watson and Lemuel Thornton, and State Reps. Mark Cohen and Louise Williams Bishop made short work of their opponents, Numa St.Louis and Will Mega, to retain their 192nd and 202nd District seats respectively.
In what was considered an upset, Jewel Williams, the daughter of Sheriff Jewell Williams, failed to win the right to keep her father’s 197th Legislative District seat in the family. J.P. Miranda bested her in the primary despite what some considered an attempt to confuse voters by using campaign posters similar to her father’s in her campaign. Ward leader Gary Williams bested Republican Steve Crum and former State Sen. T. Milton Street in a special election to fill the Sheriff Williams’ unexpired term.
But while these races mostly followed the rule, there was one that was a big exception.
Attorney Brian Sims became the first openly gay legislator elected in Pennsylvania when he defeated 27-year incumbent State Rep. Babette Josephs in the 182nd District.
Sims, who served as Josephs’ campaign treasurer during one of her campaigns, decided to run because he believed that the district deserved better representation.
“After years of working in Harrisburg and working in Philadelphia it became clear to me that this district could and should be represented so much better in Harrisburg, and rather than be upset by it, rather than be bothered by it, I rolled up my sleeves and I got to work,” Sims said.
That work became what Sims calls, “the largest, healthiest, most involved campaign” the district has seen for a while.
“In order to win a campaign, you’ve got to go out and explain to people why you can do better,” Sims said. “And I’m only one person. What you need…you need delegates, you need representatives that are out there telling friends, talking to neighbors, knocking on doors, telling people why they think that I could do a better job. And what we saw was this massive amount of volunteers, this massive amount of people that saw better for Philadelphia, that thought that I could be a part of that, and then came out to help us do it.”
But the race that will have folks talking for a while is the race to succeed City Councilman Kenyatta Johnson in the 186th Legislative District.
State Rep. Harold James will be returning to Harrisburg to fill out Johnson’s unexpired term after winning the special election for the seat on Tuesday. James had initially put his hat in the ring for the Primary itself, but decided to take his Special Election victory and go home after figuring out that the seniority he had before leaving the State House had evaporated over the last four years. Because he didn’t wish to re-do the whole Freshman Legislator process, he decided to use the time to mentor and support the eventual winner, Jordan Harris.
Harris, who handily defeated Damon K. Roberts and Timothy Hannah for the honor of representing the district, was the former executive director of the Philadelphia Youth Commission and considered a protégé of Johnson and State Sen. Anthony Hardy Williams, whose name kept coming up in connection with challengers who were getting money from Students First, Pa., a pro-school voucher group run by Councilman Johnson’s wife, Dawn Chavous.
“I’m speechless,” Harris said shortly after walking into a room filled with joyous supporters. “Growing up in South Philadelphia, the only thing that I wanted to do was to make my Mom and my Grandmother proud. “This is an achievement that I hope will show our young people that they can accomplish their goals and their dreams no matter what.”
But while Harris was basking in his victory, a victory that included a court challenge to opponent Roberts for passing out a sample ballot that not only said that he was the choice of the Democratic County Executive Committee of Philadelphia, but also didn’t include who paid to have it put together, which is illegal, Roberts was dealing with a pretty large problem with his campaign workers.
Because of a mix-up regarding Election Day outreach funds, Philadelphia’s Finest were called to Roberts’ campaign offices at Broad and Dickinson to keep campaign workers who were promised money and hadn’t gotten it from bringing the ruckus. Eight police cars were stationed around the office until about 11:15 PM Tuesday night.
Sources say that the monies were to have been paid by press time.
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