Here Are the Philadelphia Primary Problems You Should Definitely Report

And one you can probably skip.

a voter at the philadelphia primary

In the Philadelphia primary, thousands of voters like this one will get their chance to cast a ballot. (Getty Images)

It’s finally here: rhe 2023 Philadelphia primary election. And along with the big decisions that have to be made today come billions of complaints about what goes down at Philadelphia polling places.

Okay, so maybe not billions of complaints. But many. So we put together this handy guide to common voting complaints and what to do about them.

It’s 7:15 a.m., and my polling place still isn’t open.

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 one Philadelphia primary election not long ago, 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. More recently, a polling place didn’t open on time because the polling place didn’t have the paper that needs to be fed into the voting machines.

I showed up at 7:55 p.m., and the line was super-long. And they shut the door at 8 p.m., before I voted.

No good! As long as you’re in line by before 8 p.m., they have to let you vote.

There’s a poll worker wearing a Jeff Brown T-shirt while standing near my voting machine.

That’s called electioneering, and it’s forbidden. There can’t be any campaign materials within 10 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.

As for people handing out fliers outside 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’re at least 10 feet away from the door to the room that holds the machines. So let’s say you vote inside a classroom at a school. People can distribute campaign materials inside the school — just not within 10 feet of the doorway of the classroom. There’s a lot of confusion over this point, so keep it in mind before you start making a stink.

I’m being intimidated at my polling place.

Once, a 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 reported the incident to the city.

philadelphia primary election problems

A bible on display at a polling place during a previous election (Photo courtesy Jess Conda)

During one Philadelphia primary election, some voters felt intimidated by the presence of a Bible on the table at the polling place. And who can forget the infamous case of the New Black Panther Party members who stood outside a Philadelphia polling place in 2008, one of them holding a nightstick, and reportedly shouted at voters?

Voter intimidation can be quite subjective. Somebody yelling at you or physically threatening you at a polling location is pretty clearly a yes for voter intimidation. But other situations may not be as clear. When in doubt, if you think somebody is being intimidating, report it.

A poll worker just told me my signature in “the book” doesn’t match what’s on file.

I sign my name in all kinds of ways. But when you go to vote, your “registered” signature is on file in “the book” (which is now electronic!). An election worker can dispute your signature. If one does, there’s a process in place that involves you filling out an affidavit confirming your identity.

My polling place is out of “I VOTED” stickers!

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 city officials don’t hear complaints when there are no stickers to be found. Staffers from the City Commissioners’ office do, 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, now available in a bunch of languages.

They’re making me show ID to vote. I thought that was illegal.

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, under any circumstances.

And there are lots of things 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; a valid student ID; a 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.

They let this old dude vote for his wife, who’s too sick to come out and vote. Is that legit?

Nope. That’s technically voter fraud, and examples like that do come up. The guy has lived in the neighborhood for 60 years; all the election workers know him and his wife. 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. In recent years, there have been a number of people indicted in Philadelphia voter fraud or election fraud cases. See: Ozzie Myers, who pleaded guilty in a federal case.

The machine I voted on didn’t work right.

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.

They’re telling me I’m not in the book.

Sometimes, people are simply at the wrong polling place. And sometimes, people show up never having actually, you know, registered to vote.

All polling locations have paper provisional ballots for use if the problem can’t be sorted out on the spot. With a provisional ballot, you must provide your name, address and birthday, and the city will later determine the voter registration status and count the vote when appropriate. You can track your provisional ballot online to see if it was counted.

Any person wanting to vote can request a provisional ballot for whatever reason at any polling location anytime while the polls are open. If workers won’t give you one or say they don’t have them, file a report immediately.

So whom do I call with a Philadelphia primary complaint?

If you see any activity you believe is dangerous, threatening or intimidating, officials say to call 911. Then call the Philadelphia District Attorney’s special voting task force at 215-686-9641. This is also a good number to call to report voter or election fraud or electioneering. The DA’s office has a team of 30 assistant district attorneys and detectives ready to investigate all complaints.

The City Commissioners will be on hand at 215-686-1591 to answer voter registration questions, or to deal with things like those locked doors at 7:15 a.m., broken machines and your precious stickers. (But seriously, if you bother them with a sticker complaint, you might need to reevaluate your life.)

You can also call the election protection hotline: 1-866-OUR-VOTE. The phone reps there 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.