Our long national nightmare is almost over. Whatever the 2016 presidential election has been, it certainly hasn’t been fun. Or particularly uplifting. But now our collective moment of reckoning is here, and it’s up to us to be the responsible adults in the room, get to the polls on Tuesday and vote!
Even if you’re not particularly enthralled with any of the presidential candidates, there are a lot of other incredibly important elections on the ballot this fall that will go a long way towards determining what kind of city, state, and country we become over the next few years. That’s why we’ve created this handy, one-stop guide for everything you need to know for the 2016 general election.
Can I vote in this election?
Are you registered to vote in Pennsylvania? Then, yes! All registered voters may vote in this election. Not sure if you’re registered? Not a problem, you can check your registration status here. If you’re not registered yet, register now so that you’ll be ready to vote in next year’s city primaries!
I’m feeling very apathetic, and/or I haven’t been paying attention to all of these races. Should I bother voting?
Yes! First, there’s still plenty of time to get up to speed on the candidates. Crowdpac has a tool for you to see the list of all of the candidates running for office on your ballot; it’s a great place to start.
There are also plenty of reasons to vote even if you’re not the most highly-informed person in the world. Put simply: If you vote, politicians will care what you have to say; if you don’t, they’ll ignore you. They can’t see who you voted for, only whether you bothered to go to the polls. And, surprisingly, that means a lot to them.
Where do I vote?
Pennsylvania’s Department of State has created this handy online tool to look up your polling place. If you’re having trouble using that system, call them directly at 1-877-VOTESPA. You should also have received a postcard in the mail telling you where your polling place is. Remember that polling places change! Just because you voted somewhere in a previous election doesn’t mean you’ll necessarily vote there again on Tuesday—so check before you head over
When are the polls open?
Polls are open from 7 AM to 8 PM. Remember that you can get in line to vote before 7 AM, and you can vote as long as you were in line before 8 PM, even if you don’t get into the actual voting booth until later.
Do I need ID or any other documentation to vote?
The short answer is “no,” but bring it with you just in case. Although Pennsylvania’s legislature tried to implement a mandatory voter ID law four years ago, it was struck down by the courts. However, the law still says that ID can be required if you are voting at your polling place for the first time. There’s a long list of acceptable forms of identification, which includes non-photo forms such as utility bills and paychecks.
What if I have problems at the polls, or think that someone is violating election laws?
First, check out the Committee of Seventy’s fantastic guide to voter rights. If you feel that your rights are being violated, or that something fishy is going on at the polls, you should contact the Philadelphia County Board of Elections at 215-686-1590.
How can I get bleeding-edge updates on how the election is going on election day? If you’re the type of person who wants to have all of the information possible, check out Votecastr. It’s an app that will provide real-time analysis of battleground states based on up-to-the-minute voter data that the TV networks can see, but won’t share.
You can also check here at The Citizen for hourly updates courtesy of VoteCastr. We’ll have the latest, as they do, on who’s up and who’s down—until we hhave a winner.
Alright, enough of the procedural stuff. What are the races I’ll be voting on?
Here’s a breakdown, from the top of the ballot to the bottom. To view a sample ballot from your polling place, click here and enter your address at the top of the page.
This is the big kahuna of this election. Democrat Hillary Clinton, Republican Donald Trump, the Green Party’s Jill Stein, Libertarian Gary Johnson, and the Constitution Party’s Darrell Castle are on the ballot in Pennsylvania. Only Clinton and Trump have been invited to participate in the official debates. Here are links to the first, second, and third debates.
United States Senator
One of our current U.S. Senators, Republican Pat Toomey, is up for re-election this year. His opponents are Democrat Katie McGinty and Libertarian Edward Clifford III. Toomey and McGinty participated in two debates. Here are the links to the first and second debates.
State Attorney General
With the resignation of convicted former Attorney General Kathleen Kane, this is an open seat. (The current Attorney General, Bruce Beemer, was only recently appointed to the post by Governor Wolf.) The Attorney General is the chief prosecutor in Pennsylvania, and also has the ability to pursue a wide range of civil matters, such as consumer protection. The candidates are Democrat Josh Shapiro and Republican John Rafferty. They’ve also held debates; here are links to the first and second debates; the third is scheduled for tonight.
State Auditor General
The Auditor General is the chief financial watchdog in Pennsylvania. The incumbent Auditor General, Democrat Eugene DePasquale, was first elected to the office in 2012. His opponents are Republican John Brown, the Green Party’s John Sweeney, and Libertarian Roy Minet. No debates were held for this race.
Another statewide row office, another disgraced former officeholder! Former Treasurer Rob McCord was last seen wearing a wire for the FBI before being forced to step down for illegal campaign tactics. The candidates to fill the office are Democrat Joe Torsella, Republican Otto Voit, the Green Party’s Kristin Combs, and Libertarian James Babb. No debates were held for this race.
U.S. Congress; State House of Representatives; State Senate
Everyone in Pennsylvania will be voting on our representatives to the U.S. and Pennsylvania Houses of Representatives. However, only some Philadelphians will be voting on state senators, since those elections are staggered. Which offices and candidates will appear on your ballot will depend on which districts you live in. You can find out your district here. To find out which candidates are running, you can look at your sample ballot.
Special Election: United States House of Representatives
If you live in the 2nd Congressional District, you get a bonus vote! Thanks to Chaka Fattah’s conviction and resignation earlier this year, this seat is currently vacant. Pennsylvania law dictates that the vacancy be filled by special election at the next election held, which is this November. Democrat Dwight Evans is running against Republican James Jones.
Here’s where this gets weird. If you live in the 2nd District, you’re going to be voting on Evans vs. Jones twice: Once for the special election, and once for the general election. The winner of the special election will be sworn in immediately to fill the vacancy left by Fattah. The winner of the general election won’t be sworn in until the rest of Congress is in January. So, the special election is to choose a congressman to represent the 2nd District during the lame duck session from November to January, at which point the general election winner will take over. Since the same two people are running in both elections, it is overwhelmingly likely that the same person will win both races and simply be a congressman from November onwards. Still, you should vote on both since technically they’re for different terms.
- Judicial Retirement Age
Question: “Shall the Pennsylvania Constitution be amended to require that justices of the Supreme Court, judges, and magisterial district judges be retired on the last day of the calendar year in which they attain the age of 75?” (Plain English Statement here)
All voters in Pennsylvania will be deciding whether or not to extend the judicial retirement age from 70 to 75 years of age. If you’re having a bit of deja vu over this ballot questions, don’t worry, it’s not a glitch in the matrix. This question also appeared on the April ballot, but, due to a legal battle over wording, it didn’t officially count.
Oh, and about that wording. Don’t let the language of the question itself fool you. There is currently a judicial retirement age. As mentioned, all judges must retire at the age of 70 per the Pennsylvania Constitution. This question seeks to amend the Constitution to raise the age to 75.
- City of Philadelphia Bond
Question: “Should the City of Philadelphia borrow ONE HUNDRED EIGHTY-FOUR MILLION THREE HUNDRED THREE THOUSAND DOLLARS ($184,303,000.00) to be spent for and toward capital purposes as follows: Transit; Streets and Sanitation; Municipal Buildings; Parks, Recreation and Museums; and Economic and Community Development?” (Plain English Statement here)
It’s relatively routine for the City of Philadelphia to place these sorts of questions on the ballot. One thing that’s important to note from the Plain English Statement: “City Council would have authority, by ordinance, to change the intended allocation of these proceeds.” In other words: You might be voting to borrow money because you want more trash pickup, but City Council could decide instead to spend it on something totally unrelated.
How can I learn about all of these candidates?
Candidates’ websites have a lot of information about them and their proposed policies; although they’re certainly biased, they’re a good place to start. Also, watch the debates for the races for which they’re available.
Whatever you do, do not rely on sample ballots handed out by strangers at the polls. Although The Citizen is a 501(c)(3) and therefore doesn’t endorse candidates, we do endorse processes that build an engaged and informed electorate. Sample ballots are created by people who want you to vote in alignment with their interests, not yours. Please, politely ignore anyone who tries to hand you anything outside the polls and choose candidates for yourself!Header photo by justgrimes / Flickr