New study shows bullet voting common in Phila.

A new study released Tuesday sheds light on the commonly used but little understood practice of bullet voting: when a voter attempts to put more support behind a single candidate by voting for just them, despite the option of casting several votes.

Nearly a quarter of Philadelphia voters bullet voted in the May 19 City Council primary, the study by City Commissioner Al Schmidt’s office found. Schmidt’s staff manually entered 700,000 votes cast by 270,000 voters to gather the data.

“It helps our understanding of elections in Philadelphia and voting patterns in Philadelphia,” Schmidt said. “Really one of those outstanding questions in Philadelphia is how bullet voting is taking place and to what degree it is taking place.”

The office plans to release the raw data and also created an interactive map and several graphics highlighting voting trends. Here are a few:

  • Having strong support from bullet voters doesn’t necessarily win elections. The top four bullet-vote getters in the Democratic primary were Derek Green, Ed Neilson, Jenne Ayers and Alan Domb. Domb and Green won seats on the Nov. 3 general election ballot but Neilson and Ayers did not. Schmidt noted that City Councilman Bill Greenlee earned among the least ballot vote support, yet was successful in the race. "When you look at the mapping, what it’s showing is that Neilson has incredibly deep support in a narrow part of the city in this election,” Schmidt said. “Whereas Greenlee clearly had more broad-based support.”
  • Bullet voting trends vary greatly by neighborhood. In areas like Center City and Chestnut Hill, for example, most Democratic voters used all five votes at their disposal in the at-large race. In the heavily-Latino 7th and 19th wards, though, the majority of voters didn’t cast a single at-large vote. “Look at all those votes left on the table,” Schmidt said. “They voted for mayor or sheriff or city commissioner or superior court or whatever but they didn’t vote for a City Council [at-large] office, which is a pretty significant office.”
  • When voters chose to cast two of their five available votes in the Democratic at-large primary, pairings emerged. And among the top five most common pairings, one candidate won and one lost. For example, the most common pairing was Greenlee (who won) and Neilson (who lost.) The second most common was Green (who won) and Ayers (who lost.) “I don't know what to make of that,” Schmidt said. “But it’s kind of an interesting thing.”

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