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Clinton Nearly Won As Many Philadelphia Votes As Obama In 2012, But Still Lost Pennsylvania

Black voters did their part in the city. But so did Trump's mostly white supporters, here and across the state.

Posted on November 9, 2016, at 2:35 a.m. ET

Albert Samaha/BuzzFeed News

PHILADELPHIA — Henry Jackson was nervous on the night before the election. He sat on a chair on a sidewalk in north Philadelphia smoking a cigarette he'd bummed.

"We can't have Trump become president," he said. "We just gotta hope he goes away and goes back to his own business."

The 25-year-old construction worker had thought about the possibility of a President Donald Trump. He'd thought about what he would do if it happened.

“I got my passport already,” he said. “Move to Costa Rica or something.”

Many of Philadelphia's black residents shared his fear. Dozens who spoke to BuzzFeed News this week said that they believed that a Trump victory would roll back at least some of the civil rights progress that ultimately led to the election of the nation's first black president. Charles McLaurin, a 40-year-old roofer, said that he thought this election was even more important than the one in 2008.

This fear, Jackson and others believed, would bring about a big turnout among black voters in the city.

As the biggest city in a crucial swing state, 21-year-old Quadir Allen said, Philadelphia had helped carry President Barack Obama to decisive victories in two elections.

“Everybody gon’ vote,” Michael Williams, a 54-year-old cook, said on the eve of the election. “Nobody wants Donald Trump in there.”

As night fell on Philadelphia, their expectations seemed accurate. Poll workers in at least 10 north Philadelphia precincts reported that their vote counts had exceeded 2012 levels. Republican Election Commissioner Al Schmidt told BuzzFeed News that the city, which is around 44% black, appeared to have "heavy turnout." And while Hillary Clinton did not win as many votes in Philadelphia as Obama had in 2008 and 2012, she far surpassed the totals of John Kerry in 2004, by around 20,000 votes, and Al Gore in 2000, by around 100,000.

“The best turnout without Obama on the ballot that I’ve seen,” said Phyllis Watson, a poll worker in north Philadelphia.

But it didn't matter. Trump won Pennsylvania and the election anyway.

While voters in North Carolina and other states faced new laws aimed at curtailing alleged voter fraud, Philadelphia residents enjoyed a relatively smooth voting process. Pennsylvania voters are not required to show ID to cast a ballot. And with more than 1,600 polling sites across the city, Schmidt said that "a voter shouldn’t have to walk more than a couple of blocks to a polling station" — nor was a voter likely to encounter the long lines that had plagued other cities.

At one north Philly precinct, poll worker LaTonya Dukes said that 30 people had arrived before the doors opened at 7am. Poll workers at other precincts reported that their vote counts were as much as 50-100% higher than they were four years ago.

"People are afraid," retired truck driver Thomas El said on Election Day. "People scared of the possibility of a nut bag in the White House, and they're coming out in droves, and they came out early."

"Trump made 'em mad," said Robert Chalmers, a 73-year-old committeeman in north Philly's 32nd District. "We haven't had this many people this early in the day."

Black voters did their part in Philadelphia. But so did Trump's mostly white supporters, especially in the much of the rest of the state.

Clinton won a smaller percentage of votes in the city than Obama four years ago, 82% to 85%. Trump won around 13,000 more votes in the city than 2012 Republican nominee Mitt Romney, who lost Pennsylvania by about 5%.

And when the results came in the fears many residents had carried all year became a reality.

CORRECTION

Hillary Clinton won fewer votes in Philadelphia than Barack Obama won in 2012. A previous version of this article erroneously stated that she exceeded his total by 3,000.

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