by Chris Bowers, Sat Mar 17, 2007 at 06:23:37 AM EDT
A comparison of voter turnout in Philadelphia serves as an excellent example to demonstrate this thesis. As I have written about numerous times on MyDD, in 2005 I became a committeeperson (precinct captain) in the 27th ward, 23rd division. For those of you not familiar with the details of Philadelphia politics, there are 66 wards total in the city, and a "division" is the same thing as a precinct. Anyway, right around the same time I was becoming a precinct captain, the 27th ward had something of a little revolution, where we recalled our ward leader and elected a new one. After several months, the recall campaign was successful, despite consistent opposition from the leaders of the party citywide (the party leaders are primarily the 66 ward leaders). Given this, I thought a comparison of voter turnout in the first year of the free 27th ward, 2006, to voter turnout in the last mid-term election, 2002, would serve as a useful test case to see if city machines are helping or hindering voter turnout.
I was up early this morning, so I wandered over to the election results page on the Committee of Seventy website to find the numbers necessary to make this comparison. It turns out the 27th ward went from 2,755 total votes in 2002, to 4,797 total votes in 2006 (the last midterm election). That is an increase of 74.1%. For the entire city, in 2002 there were 404,025 total votes, and in 2006 there were 429,029 total votes. That is an increase of 6.2%. Overall, the 27th ward represented 8.2% of the increase in voting across the city from 2002 to 2006, which is amazing considering that there are 66 wards and we happen to be one of the smaller ones. Importantly, despite gentrification and an influx of students (which almost pushed me out of the ward back in 2004), the increase did not come from Republicans. In 2002, Governor Rendell won the ward 87.76%--7.46%. In 2006, he won the ward 90.41%--9.44%, a virtually identical margin of victory. The 90% voting rate for Rendell is particularly impressive when one considers that the voter registration of the ward is only 58% Democratic.
Not too shabby for one, small, independent ward. We also managed to sneak two of our committee people onto the state committee this past year, including yours truly. Citywide, there are 57 elected members of the state Democratic committee, seventeen of which were not filled in the 2006 elections (but were later appointed by Bob Brady). So, the 27th ward represents 5%, or two of forty, elected members of the state committee at the current time.
Here at MyDD, my primary focus has always been a wide-angle lens on the national picture, but I have to admit I enjoy the local stuff at least as much, if not more. We have had some fun times out in the 27th ward lately. You really can make a difference with local action. Retuning to the wider view for a moment, while the example of one individual ward with only twenty-three divisions (precincts) does not provide conclusive evidence supporting the thesis I presented at the start of this post, it does give me a lot more confidence in that thesis. Ossified city machines that are fearful of new members are not helping the Democratic cause. In fact, I honestly believe they are hurting it. Not only can silent revolutions improve confidence in local Democratic parties, weed out corruption, inject the system with progressive political views and increase transparency, but they can also greatly enhance Democratic electoral prospects as well. We did all of those things where I live. As you read this, I am sure it is happening in hundreds, if not thousands, of other locales across the country as well.