Fmr. CouncilMember Donna Reed-Miller
State Representative Stephen Kinsley
For voting purposes, the city of Philadelphia is broken down into 66 wards, and each ward is further broken down into somewhere between 11 and 51 divisions. Most wards have around 25 divisions, and there are supposed to be between 500-1,200 registered voters in each division. Each division is assigned a polling place.
Your division determines where you vote, but the political parties also mobilize this ward map for politics. They do this by using the geography of wards and divisions as the framework for a system of grassroot politics.
Each division is capable of electing two party representatives: the committeepeople. The committeepeople in every ward then elect their ward leader. And finally, the ward leaders elect the Chairs of their respective City Committees.
With this in mind, it’s easy to see how the “ward system,” as it’s often called, can establish deep roots and connections with voters in communities with particularly active ward organizations.
Philadelphia is divided into 1,692 voting divisions (often called “precincts”), which are the smallest political units of the city. By law, each division is required to contain no fewer than 100 and no more than 1,200 registered voter. The division you live in determines where you vote on Election Day.
The Democratic and Republican Party organizations in Philadelphia start at a grassroots level with the office of committeeperson. Each division is represented by up to two Democratic and two Republican committeepeople who are elected by voters of the same party who live in the same division. Republican and Democratic committee people serve four year terms. Since 1965, Philadelphia has been divided into 66 wards, which are the second smallest units of the city. Wards usually have between 10 and 50 divisions.
City Committee ?
The City Committee, a group of about 70 people if all positions are filled, supervises the full-time operations of the party office and also serves as the "voice of the party." The Chairs of the Democratic and Republican City Committees are elected by their respective party’s ward leaders. City Committees usually endorse candidates for elective office, fill vacancies when candidates nominated in the primary election are unable to run in the general election, and nominate candidates for special elections. The City Committees can make rules about the governing of the party as long as those rules don’t conflict with city or state law, or with the rules of their party’s statewide organization.
Why This Matters
The significant influence wielded through the ward system comes largely from candidate endorsements made by the parties’ City Committees and in each ward. These endorsements are communicated to voters in the form of “sample ballot” flyers distributed outside the polls every Election Day. This is perfectly legal and can be quite helpful for voters seeking guidance. But with a ballot full of low-profile offices and unfamiliar names (39 local judicial candidates are running in the May 16 primary for eleven slots), many voters rely entirely on these party-suggested candidates. A recent Econsult analysis suggests party endorsement – especially when it’s ward-specific – is a powerful factor in determining victors for local judicial seats