A Closer Look at 2014's Competitive Committeeperson Elections

8th_Ward_Map.jpg

(Philadelphia Wards and Divisions)

We know that the 2014 ward elections were really uncompetitive, with only 14% of Philly's 1,600+ divisions seeing of their seats substantially contested. But digging into that slice of competitive races a bit more, we see that things only look worse from a competitiveness perspective.

To recap, Jonathan Tannen wrote about the 2014 committeeperson elections on his excellent new Sixty-Six Wards blog, and showed that, with the exception of a few pockets of the city, only a small share of divisions had more than two people running. Since each division can elect two committeepeople, there was no real competition.

I spent some time looking at the results in just the competitive divisions over the past few weeks—a topic I'm very interested in since we're encouraging people to run for these seats this spring—and I found a few more interesting stats to share about what happened in the competitive races.

Only a small minority of divisions had contested elections 

In 2014, there were 233 divisions with three or more candidates on the actual ballot, or 423 if you count write-ins. Divisions with three candidates on the ballot made up about 14% of divisions, and if you're counting write-ins, it was about 25%.  

Going with the broader definition (since there were some pretty serious write-in campaigns,) 249 of the 423 competitive divisions (or 59%) had exactly 3 candidates. Another 117 (28%) had exactly 4 candidates, 31 (8%) had 5 candidates, and just 23 (5%) divisions had 6 or more candidates.

Most three-candidate races weren't really competitive

In the divisions where there were just three candidates (the minimum to make it a contested race) 
182 of the 249 third-place candidates (or 73%)  were write-ins, and 108 of those candidates received only 1 vote. So a huge portion of what we're even counting among the contested races turn out not to be very competitive at all, since the third-place finisher didn't campaign in most cases.

Forty to sixty votes usually wins it

Within the contested divisions with three or more candidates, the average number of votes needed to win the number one committeeperson slot was just 63 votes, and the median number was 57 votes. It took an average of just 46 votes to secure the number two committeeperson position, and the median vote to secure the number two slot was 41. For context, most divisions have somewhere between 500 and 1,200 registered voters, and most of them are Democrats, so even if all of your committeeperson's 63 voters are completely loyal to them, it's still mathematically possible to go and find a different group of 64 voters in your division to vote for you. Visit the Sixty-Six Wards map to figure out your win number

But get 22 more votes than you think you need

This won't apply to everyone's situation, obviously, but one helpful thing to keep in mind if/when you run for committeeperson is that you should always plan to have 22 more votes than you think you need. That's because third-place candidates on average lost by just 22 votes. So whatever number you think is your target, you should try to lock down 22 more votes than that!

The upshot of all this, we think, should be to encourage people who are on the fence about running this spring to take the plunge, because chances are good that if you get on the ballot, and you do some basic campaigning, you'll win easily.

Find your division and sign up to get a jump start on running in your division. 

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  • commented 2018-01-11 13:07:06 -0500
    Very interesting data! For those of us involved in 2014 races, there apparently seemed like more activity than actually took place. However, in 2014 a seed was planted. In 2014 many people learned that there was such a thing as a committeeperson and several groups, principally YIP, also NOW and CLUW, held workshops for their members and interested citizens about the ward system and running for committeeperson. See my account of this activity in Green Shoots of Democracy in the Philadelphia Democratic Party, which documents the work of progressives from the late 1960s through the committeeperson elections of 2014 to make the Philadelphia Democratic Party more democratic, more transparent.

    In 2018, in part due to those earlier efforts, interest in the committeeperson races is far greater, more organizations are working to educate their members about running for these seats, and real change just may be on the horizon.
    Karen Bojar
    karenbojar.com