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In Tuesday’s midterm elections, Kensington area voters cite crime, trash, homelessness, and abortion rights as motivations to vote

Updated 11/13/22

On Tuesday, Kensington area residents went to the polls to vote for the next Pennsylvania governor and other local, state, and federal seats in the 2022 General Election.

Despite the area’s historically low turnout, poll workers said that voters showed up in larger numbers than usual at several polling sites in Harrowgate and Kensington.

Across the Kensington region, over 35% of registered voters cast a ballot in person or by mail, according to the City’s election results data. This includes Ward 19 and parts of Wards 7, 18, 25, 31, 33, and 45. The citywide turnout reached 46%.

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Election background information

In the weeks leading up to Election Day, election organizers expressed concerns over potential challenges for voters, including the relocation of polling places. Additionally, because of a recent PA Supreme Court ruling, hundreds of mail-in ballots were at risk of not being counted if voters did not fix ballot issues, like forgetting to add a date or signature, before the end of Election Day. There were long lines at City Hall on Monday, with voters attempting to correct their ballot problems. 

In Pennsylvania, it can take weeks to certify election results, but most projections (reported below) are typically available on election night or after once a deciding majority of votes are counted. According to CBS News, this has always been the reality of U.S. elections, even before mail-in ballots became more popular during the pandemic. However, Pennsylvania law requires that election officials wait until the polls close at 8 p.m. to count mail-ins. This process is more time-consuming than it would be if county officials could count these ballots upon arrival at the county election office before and during Election Day.

Plus, the Philadelphia City Commissioners, a three-member board of elected officials from the Democratic and Republican parties, reinstated a drawn-out process meant to catch double votes (two votes from one person) by mail and at the polls.

Election results

Local election results

In the Philadelphia City Council race, Democrat Quetcy Lozada, the former vice president of community organizing at Esperanza, won the special election in the 7th District against a Republican and Libertarian candidate. Lozada will replace her former boss Councilmember Maria Quiñones-Sánchez, who resigned to run for mayor in September. The 7th District includes Kensington, Fairhill, Norris Square, and surrounding neighborhoods.

Meanwhile, Democrat Jim Harrity, a Kensington resident and the former executive director of state Sen. Sharif Street’s office, won a City Council at-large seat in the special election. He will be joined by fellow Democrat Sharon Vaughn, a former City Council staff member, who also won a City Council at-large seat. 

State & federal election results

In the state governor’s race, PA Attorney General Josh Shapiro (D) is the winner against state Sen. Doug Mastriano (R). Meanwhile, in the federal senate race, Lt. Gov. John Fetterman (D) is the winner against Dr. Mehmet Oz (R).

Voting and civic engagement in Harrowgate 

Victoria Sipes, 47, a Juniata Park resident and Democratic Committeeperson for Ward 45, Division 18, poses for a photo on Election Day on Nov. 8, 2022. (Photo by Khysir Carter)

Kensington Voice staff visited two polling places in Harrowgate and one location in Norris Square on Tuesday. In Harrowgate, several committee people and poll workers reported an increase in voter turnout and election participation. They attributed this to efforts made by the new 45th Ward leader Shannon Farrell-Pakstis. 

According to the City’s election results data, the 45th Ward nearly had a 40% voter turnout.

In Harrowgate, an auto shop at 2035 E. Glenwood Ave. welcomed voters from Ward 45, Divisions 13, 17, 18, 19, and 21, which includes parts of Harrowgate, Port Richmond, and surrounding neighborhoods. At polling places, there are sometimes multiple voting divisions at one location, which is the case at this auto shop. This was a new polling place for those who typically vote at Heitzman Recreation Center, temporarily closed for Rebuild, a citywide program to improve community spaces. 

However, the City Commissioners, ward leader, and committee people informed voters about the new polling place location through mass texts and other methods, according to Erin Farrell, a Democratic Committeeperson for Ward 45, Division 17, who is also Farrell-Pakstis’ sister. 

“Lots and lots of voters today,” said Farrell, referring to the 45th Ward. “I’ve seen an increase, and I think that that’s very much the community getting the word out.”

Victoria Sipes, 47, a Juniata Park resident and Democratic Committeeperson for Ward 45, Division 18, spent about five hours the night before the election writing down the division’s polling place address on flyers and going door-to-door to inform her neighbors.

“I have two young ladies that I’m raising, my daughters, and I want them to live in a good, clean neighborhood,” said Sipes, a realtor who grew up in Kensington. “That’s one of the main reasons why I got into this and to make a difference.”

Farrell said that more poll workers were also working in this election than those in the past, which she attributed to the City Commissioners increasing the starting pay from $120 to $200. However, some poll workers had personal motivations rather than monetary ones.

Daniel Jerger, a Republican and Harrowgate resident, first became a poll worker to support his family members and neighbors who were volunteers. With polls closing at 8 p.m, Jerger worried about their safety coming back home at night. 

Over the years, Jerger became more involved and now serves as the Judge of Election for Ward 45, Division 18. In Philadelphia, the role of the Judge of Election and the Majority and Minority Inspector is to oversee a voting division and its poll workers. They are elected by voters every four years and live in their voting divisions. 

“The only way anybody is going to make a change is if they get up and vote and demand that something be done,” Jerger said.

Meanwhile, over at Ward 45, Division 13, Shandel Gregory served for the first time as the Judge of Election. Gregory said she was excited to take her former job as a poll worker to the next level.

“It’s always important for the community to come out and vote for who they want,” she said. 

Around 1 p.m., Wanda Johnson, 60, the Democratic Committeeperson and the Majority Inspector of Ward 45, Division 19, told Kensington Voice that there had been a steady stream of voters in the morning and afternoon despite the late start.

“It’s important to vote because we’ve come a long way to have that chance to vote,” said Johnson, a Harrowgate resident.  

An early, Election-Day Christmas in Norris Square

Mildred Fres, who hosted a wheelchair-accessible polling place out of her garage on the corner of York and Mascher streets, fixes her outdoor Christmas tree decorations on Nov 8, 2022. (Photo by Khysir Carter)

While many North Philly voters found their polling places in schools, libraries, and churches, in Norris Square, one polling site was not your typical location  —a residential garage decked out in Christmas decorations.

Mildred Fres, 67, has lived at that property for 45 years. For about four years, Fres has provided her garage as a wheelchair-accessible polling site for Ward 19, Division 10 in Norris Square. Some voters are surprised at first when they see the garage, Fres said in Spanish, but she’s happy to help out her neighbors since people rarely offer their property as a polling place. She even cooks food for the poll workers while they’re there.

“Here all the neighbors get along well, thank God,” Fres said in Spanish. “We’re all like a family.”

Right before 5 p.m., the Judge of Election said 177 voters from Ward 19, Division 10 had visited the garage to vote. According to the City’s election results data, the voter turnout was over 25% for the 19th Ward. Out of the 19 divisions from that ward, Fres’ garage had the third highest turnout. Fres’ voting division also has the highest number of registered voters in Ward 19. 

Although the location was unique, the garage was set up the same way as other common polling places with a table for the voting division and the City’s official voting machines. There was also a bilingual interpreter, provided by the City Commissioners, present at the polling site. Some issues on Fres’ mind while voting were crime, trash, and homelessness.

“I vote for there to be a change in crime, the amount of trash [on the streets], and so much trouble,” Fres said in Spanish.

‘Before this, we had a ghost ward leader’

Harrowgate resident Sandy Wells poses for a photo at the polling location at John H. Webster Elementary School on Frankford Avenue. (Photo by Daisie Cardona)

Over at John H. Webster Elementary School, poll greeters outside described an above-average voter turnout, considering that it wasn’t a presidential election. Around 2:30 p.m., a total of 315 voters from Ward 45, Divisions 8, 9, 10, 11, 14, and 16 visited Webster Elementary. Those divisions cover parts of Harrowgate and Kensington. 

Some poll workers expressed surprise and amazement over the turnout that day. Sandy Wells, a longtime poll worker at Webster Elementary, said she’d never seen this kind of turnout — let alone for a governor race — and credited Harrowgate Civic Association President Shannon Farrell-Pakstis, the new 45th Ward leader.  

“Before this, we had a ghost ward leader,” said Wells, a Harrowgate resident and civic association member. “ … We never got any kind of vote out. We never got workers here. We never had anything. This was a ghost town. And that’s bad because we have a really big drug and violence problem here.”

Wells added that Farrell-Pakstis has resurrected the neighborhood’s election participation, but there needs to be more political action considering the frequent mass shootings and high gun violence rates in the area.  

Harrowgate resident Darlene Burton poses for a photo outside of John H. Webster Elementary School on Election Day on Nov. 8, 2022. (Photo by Daisie Cardona)

At Webster, Harrowgate resident Darlene Burton, 52, a Democratic Committeeperson for Ward 45, Division 10, proudly wore a handmade “Vote” ribbon pinned onto her coat. Burton said the ribbon was a gift from a friend and its design was inspired by buttons used during the Women’s Suffrage Movement. The ribbon featured a quote from the late civil rights activist John Lewis, which said, “Get into good trouble.”

“We all need to get out and vote and make our voices heard because things are being done to discriminate against women, as far as their body autonomy and whether or not they’re ready to be a parent,” Burton said. “That was the biggest catalyst for me voting because even though I’m done with having children, I still have children and grandchildren, and I want my [daughters and] granddaughters to have the same rights I had.”

For more information about voting and working at the Philadelphia polls, click here.

Editors: Jillian Bauer-Reese, Zari Tarazona Designer: Jillian Bauer-Reese