The Importance of Down-Ballot Races

In Philadelphia, the headlining race of the 2023 election season is the campaign to become the 100th Mayor. Cherelle Parker (D) and David Oh (R) won their respective party primaries in the spring and will compete this November. Both would make history — Parker as the city’s first female mayor, and Oh as the city’s first Asian-American mayor. 

Frequently forgotten – but no less important – are the so-called “down-ballot” races. The Committee of Seventy’s handy tool can help residents of the Philadelphia region preview the down-ballot races and candidates they will have the opportunity to vote for on Tuesday. For voters in the City of Philadelphia, these include: 

  • Philadelphia City Council (1 district representative, 5 at-large)  
  • Philadelphia Sheriff 
  • Philadelphia Register of Wills 
  • Philadelphia City Controller 
  • Philadelphia City Commissioner (2) 
  • Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice, Superior Court (2), Commonwealth Court, Court of Common Pleas (13), and Philadelphia Municipal Court Judges (2) 
  • Judicial Retentions for Superior Court, Court of Common Pleas, and Philadelphia Municipal Court 
  • Philadelphia Home Rule Charter amendment — potential creation of an Office for People with Disabilities 

Each of these races has an important impact on the lives of more than one million Philadelphians (and, in the case of statewide court judges, on other Pennsylvanians as well.) Many Philadelphians do not even vote in down-ballot races, choosing to vote only for the Mayor’s race. Philadelphia municipal elections are already held in off years, so even though Philadelphia voter registration has totaled over 1 million since 2008, top turnout hasn’t hit 30%. 

Just one example of this discrepancy is the race for the City of Philadelphia Sheriff, which takes place during mayoral election years. The sheriff’s office handles duties related to property foreclosures and courtroom security. Between 2007-2019, the race for the Sheriff’s office drew no more than 88 percent of the vote total of the mayoral race: 


Year  Sheriff Votes  Mayoral Votes  Pct. 
2007  208,455  275,112  75.8% 
2011  161,616  182,709  88.5% 
2015  199,804  238,664  83.7% 
2019  233,588  292,239  80.0% 


It’s important to note that the sheriff’s and mayoral races were most similar during the low-turnout 2011 election, when then Mayor Michael Nutter won a second term. During more competitive mayoral years, there is a larger turnout discrepancy.  

The interactive map below displays the difference between sheriff and mayoral turnout numbers by voting precinct in each of the past four mayoral election years:

In general, discrepancies in vote totals between these two offices are lowest in Center City and North Philadelphia and highest in the Northeast. Geographic differences were particularly pronounced in 2019 — a trend that could continue in 2023. 

The sheriff’s office is just one example of the discrepancy in voter participation between high-profile and down-ballot races in Philadelphia. On Tuesday, voters will have a chance to reverse this trend and have their voices heard in races up and down the ballot. 

You can view your sample ballot from the City here, by entering the address at which you are registered, and scrolling down to “Preview ballot.”  


John LaVaccare | [email protected]

John LaVaccare is a Senior Analyst at ESI. As a graduate of the Master’s in Public Policy and Management program at Carnegie Mellon University’s Heinz College, where he concentrated in Urban Development, John LaVaccare has academic knowledge in urban economic development, urban design, urban ecology, and real estate development.

Share This