A ward committee's work is never done. There's campaign literature to be printed and distributed, newsletters to write up, poll workers to recruit and phone banks to staff. And that's all before Election Day. Although yesterday's city election may mark the high point in a ward organization's year, preparations for it began months in advance. While people involved in this basic unit of party organization say they enjoy their tasks immensely, they also say their work is more difficult than many voters imagine. "We're taken for granted [and often] get yelled at," said Kevin Vaughan, Democratic leader of the 27th ward. · Rightly or wrongly, the image of ward politics in Philadelphia is that of a history of patronage and corruption. But leaders of both ward organizations in University City say their tasks are far less suspect than in previous years, but are still time-consuming. "I never even thought it took so much," Barbara Dichter, a newcomer to ward politics, said yesterday. "I just pulled the lever . . . When you're on the outside, you have no idea what it takes." The University is located in the 27th Ward, which includes most of West Philadelphia, south of Market Street. The two ward political organizations consist of elected committee members from each division of the ward, who then choose a ward leader. Besides supporting political candidates and mobilizing voters by calling them and offering them rides to the polls, the ward organizations usually provide the staff for polling locations. Polling places are usually staffed by at least five people, including a majority-party poll watcher, a minority-party poll watcher, a judge of elections and a person who watches the polling machines. The issue of providing workers for the polling locations has caused tension between the 27th ward Republicans and the 27th ward Democrats. 27th ward Republican leader Matthew Wolfe said it is his organization's "first responsibility" to win elections and places his volunteers outside the polls distributing literature. But 27th ward Democrat leader Vaughan maintains both parties should provide staff members for the polls, which oftentimes the Republican organization fails to do. Preparing for elections may take tremendous amounts of time for the ward leaders, but more important, it requires skilled organization, workers say. Before Election Day, the group prints up literature, canvasses the ward and brings candidates to the ward for speeches and receptions. And yesterday, each organization put between 50 to 70 people on the streets passing out literature and calling up voters on Election Day. On Election Day, Vaughan and Wolfe each have elaborate systems to oversee the staff at the various polling places while they drive -- and bike -- in circles around the 27th Ward. Yesterday afternoon, Wolfe pulled out a chart showing which volunteers were at what place at what time. And 27th Democratic leader Vaughan documents every call he receives on Election Day. But when a leader organizes a ward well, elections run fairly smoothly, according to Judge of Elections Carolyn West. "I knew it took organization, but I didn't realize how easy [it would be]," West said yesterday afternoon. "Our captain [Vaughan] runs a tight ship." While Wolfe said yesterday it is often difficult to keep volunteers, his group's organizational ability is most evident in its tracking of registered voters -- not only in the 27th ward, but in nearby ward 45 and Center City wards five and eight as well. The committee has bought a hard disk to file and sort voters, Republican ward Vice-President Tex Roper said yesterday, making it easy to track voters who are registered in improbable ways or have moved -- therefore pinpointing who should be struck from the rolls. "One person had registered [giving as an address] the pediatric ward of Children's Hospital," Roper said. "So you go ask and find out . . . there's only patients there." While the Republicans pride themselves on the accurate voter rolls, the Democrats are unusual in holding open meetings and endorsing candidates in the primary independent of the opinions of the Democratic City Committee. "We are the most progressive ward in the city," Vaughan said. "We're very democratic." "We discuss stances when [candidates] come in," he added. "When we ask tough questions we expect forthright answers [and] expect them to hold to their word."Comments powered by Disqus
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