By Jesse Bernstein, Andy Gotlieb, Sophie Panzer and Liz Spikol
In some ways, Election Day unrolled like it always does.
Early queues of voters. Campaign signs outside polling places. Commiteepeople trying to sway voters — though was anyone still undecided on Nov. 3? “I Voted” stickers. Cold, but clear weather. Politicians making the rounds.
But in other ways, it was rather different — and not just because of the masks.
Those lines seemed longer because people were social distancing (a few smart people brought chairs). The procedures were different at many precincts, such as electronic ballots replaced by paper ones that were scanned. The crowds, at least early on, were subdued.
And it’s hard to put it into words, but it just felt a bit different.
Those who arrived promptly at 7 a.m. to vote at the Narberth Municipal Building waited 50 minutes to do so, fortified, if they so chose, by granola bars handed out by a Democratic committeewoman. By the time those early arrivals voted and were ready to leave, the lines were largely gone.
Over at Penn Wynne Elementary School in Wynnewood, the Republican and Democratic committeepeople assumed their traditional spots on opposite sides of the entrance — with one change: They were asked to stay outside instead of setting up in the school’s lobby like usual.
“Everybody’s in a good mood,” said Republican committeeman Mike Adler, who noted that he enjoys Election Day to catch up with neighbors. “This is usually a friendly polling place.”
Across the way, Democratic volunteer Elaine Roseman said she’s noticed some changes.
“People are anxious. They have PTSD from 2016,” she said. “And the mail-in ballots have really changed things. There’s less conversation. People are in and out.”
A few blocks away at Penn Wynne Library, a lengthy line remained two hours after polls opened.
Nicola Hill of Wynnewood said she waited in line 90 minutes to vote.
“One thing different for me this year was seeing voter protection,” she said, referring to poll watchers stationed outside the building.
Hill said the election energized her family, including husband Eric Weinberg, whose father, Martin, normally served as a poll worker, but declined to do so this year because of the pandemic. Eric Weinberg underwent the training and replaced his father at a Bryn Mawr polling location.
Voting traffic was fairly light in the morning in Mt. Airy, a neighborhood where many residents had voted early.
At Germantown Jewish Centre, a couple of women stood outside and asked a poll worker some clarifying questions. Once they got the answers, he said, “Come on in,” and they went inside to vote. There was no line, only a single campaign-hired poll observer who sat against a tree outside, bundled up against the chill.
Nearby polling places, like Action Karate off of Germantown Avenue, had a clutch of voters waiting outside along with the poll observers in their folding chairs. There were plenty of signs about COVID precautions, and hand sanitizer was everywhere in evidence.
At the Commodore John Barry Arts and Cultural Center, Rabbi Alan LaPayover, director of the Goldyne Savad Library Center at Reconstructionist Rabbinical College, was working the polls.
Part of the Philadelphia City Commissioners’ Rover Program, LaPayover was there, he said, to help move the lines, answer voter questions and address any problems the judges of elections might have.
“It’s just to help the elections move smoothly,” he said.
When asked if his Judaism informed his Election Day work, he said, “Absolutely, absolutely. It’s a responsibility to participate in society and voting is one of the best ways we can do that. It’s very important to make sure that everyone votes and we make sure the elections go smoothly and safely.”
It would be a long day for LaPayover, who had already been mistaken for Bernie Sanders more than once; with his mask on, there was a distinct resemblance. A fellow poll worker even tricked a family member into believing it was Bernie.
At 7:30 a.m., the line outside of Tacony Academy Charter School in Fox Chase snaked through the parking lot, the tip of the tail regenerated every few minutes by a steady stream of cars pulling in. A persistent wind kept the lot cold even as the sun started to peek over the trees.
Bruce Blady came over from Congregation Ahavas Torah, across Rhawn Street, where he’d just been at a bris. Now, Blady said, he was ready to take part in a more contemporary duty, even if the line was at least four times as long as it usually was on Election Day.
Sam Maron came from the bris as well. Fearful that mail-in voting would not be secure, Maron had decided to vote in person. As the full length of the line came into view, Maron shook his head.
“I hope they’re voting for Trump,” he said.
Yaakov Yermish, a fellow past president of Ahavas Torah, joined the back of the line with his son; both were wearing MAGA apparel.The latter was excited to push the button in the voting booth, whereas the former was more excited about who the button was being pushed for.
“It’s an important year,” Yermish said.
Andrew Goldman brought his daughter to vote with him, just as he had in 2016. Like everyone else, he was astounded at the length of the line, and was thankful that he had arrived early. Lifting his kippah for a moment, he said, “I’m voting for the same guy that 90% of people who wear this are.”
Meanwhile, in Center City, the line to vote at the The Kimmel Center for the Performing
Arts already stretched down Spruce Street, along Broad and onto Pine before 8 a.m. Several news crews set up cameras outside and representatives from the Biden campaign offered voters free selfies with a cardboard cutout of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris (no donations allowed).
The lines for other polls in the area were shorter.
The William Way LGBT Community Center on Spruce Street and the Philadelphia Senior Center and the Land Title Building on Broad each had a dozen or fewer voters waiting outside this morning. A few older voters brought chairs to sit on.
And in Fishtown around 8:30 a.m., voters lined up by district outside the Fishtown Recreation Center, and in a shorter line at the Alexander Adaire School playground.
Ronnie Kessler, a Jewish parent at the school, was staffing a bake sale fundraiser for the nonprofit Friends of Adaire and had already cast her ballot by mail.
She couldn’t say anything political due to her volunteering position, but she was happy to see everyone complying with rules about masks. She noted that there was strong turnout, though there seemed to be fewer children accompanying their parents than she had seen in previous years.
“It’s really exciting to see so many people here,” she said.