It’s finally here: the 2019 Philadelphia Primary election. And along with the billions of City Council candidates come billions of complaints about what goes down inside of Philadelphia polling places.
OK, so maybe not billions of complaints, but we started hearing about problems shortly after the polls opened at 7 a.m., and there are bound to be many more. So we put together this handy guide of common complaints — including, yes, when your polling place runs out of those “I VOTED” stickers — and what to do about them.
Polling places are required to open at 7 a.m. sharp statewide. But sometimes, that doesn’t happen. Some people can just go back later. But let’s say you have to work a 12-hour shift beginning at 8 a.m. You need your polling place open on time.
During last year’s primary, a polling place inside a church in Northwest Philadelphia didn’t open on time, because the janitor who had to open the building was running late. The city actually got a court order to break into the church.
“You don’t want to let anything get in the way of voting,” Philadelphia City Commissioner Al Schmidt, whose office is in charge of elections in the city, told us in an interview. “We will take extraordinary measures to make sure that happens, including breaking a lock.”
And Schmidt reminds voters that as long as you’re in line by 8 p.m. — the stated closing time for the polls — they have to stay open until your vote is cast, no matter how long that line is.
That’s called electioneering, and it is forbidden. There can’t be any campaign materials within ten feet of the door to the room where the voting machines are or in the room itself. In 2012, poll workers had to cover up a mural of Barack Obama inside a polling place in Northeast Philadelphia.
But people handing out flyers outside of your polling place? Some people mistakenly think that’s illegal. But it’s fine.
People inside the entrance to the building holding up campaign signs? No problem, just so they are at least ten feet away from the door to the room that holds the machines. So let’s say you vote inside of a classroom at a school. People can distribute campaign materials inside the school — just not within ten feet of the doorway of the classroom.
On Tuesday morning, one Philly Mag staffer faced a strange series of questions about his ethnicity and opinions on immigration posed by a poll worker when he went to vote. He didn’t personally feel intimated, but he understood why others might, so he reported the incident to the city.
“There are all manners of things that could fall under voter intimidation,” Schmidt told us. “Some people feel intimidated because they have to walk to a slightly different neighborhood. Some people feel intimidated because of the flag on the election board table. Some may feel intimidated by somebody standing outside saying, ‘Get out of here, or I’m going to knock you out!’ There are many degrees to this, but if people feel intimidated for any reason, they should report it.”
During last year’s Philadelphia primary, some voters were intimidated by the presence of a Bible on the table at the polling place. According to Schmidt, some black Republican voters have reported being intimidated by Democratic poll workers. And who can forget the infamous case of the New Black Panther Party members who stood outside of a Philadelphia polling place in 2008, one of them holding a billy club?
The horror! No, there’s no law saying that the city has to provide you with an “I VOTED” sticker, but that doesn’t mean that Schmidt’s office doesn’t hear complaints when there are no stickers to be found. He says that his office does, in fact, go out to replenish supplies when a polling place runs out. So don’t worry, oh-so-politically engaged Instagrammer: You’ll get your sticker.
So here’s the deal with voter ID. If you’ve never voted at your polling place before — maybe you just registered to vote for the first time or maybe you moved from a different county or state or maybe you just moved a few blocks away and your polling location has changed — you need to produce ID. Otherwise, you absolutely do not.
And there are lots of things that the city says are acceptable to use as ID. They include the following: a valid voter registration card issued by Philly’s Voter Registration Office; a valid PA driver’s license or PennDOT ID card; a valid ID issued by any Commonwealth of Pennsylvania agency; a valid ID issued by the United States government; a valid U.S. passport; a valid U.S. armed forces ID; valid student ID; valid employee ID; a firearm permit; a current utility bill or bank statement; a paycheck; a government check; or a non-photo ID issued by Pennsylvania or the federal government.
Nope. That’s voter fraud, and examples like that do come up, says Schmidt. The guy has lived in the neighborhood for 60 years, all the election workers know him and his wife, and they all know she’s a hardcore Democrat. What’s the harm in letting him press the buttons for her while she’s home sick in bed? Well, it’s illegal.
Of course, that’s not the nefarious kind of voter fraud that we tend to hear about. Since 2014, there have been 12 people indicted in Philadelphia voter fraud or election fraud cases, like workers literally adding fraudulent votes to machines at the end of the night.
There have been all sorts of reports over the years of machines malfunctioning or just completely breaking down. The city has technicians who will be dispatched to fix a voting machine or replace it if it can’t be repaired quickly.
Sometimes, people are simply at the wrong polling place. Sometimes, the poll workers just miss the name. And sometimes, people show up never having actually, you know, registered to vote.
All polling locations have paper provisional ballots which are to be used if it can’t be sorted out on the spot. With a provisional ballot, you must provide your name, address, birthday, and ID, and the city will later determine the voter registration status and count the vote when appropriate.
The City Commissioners will be on hand at 215-686-1590 to answer voter registration questions — or to deal with things like those locked doors at 7:15 a.m. and your precious stickers.
The watchdog group Committee of Seventy also runs a hotline, which can be reached at 1-866-OUR-VOTE. They can tell you where you’re actually supposed to vote (you can also just look that up yourself) and they’re also ready to take complaints.
Then there’s the Philadelphia District Attorney’s special primary day task force at 215-686-9641 for things like voter intimidation, voter or election fraud, or electioneering complaints.
Source URL: https://www.phillymag.com/news/2019/05/21/philadelphia-election-voting-problems/
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