The officials who run and monitor elections in Philadelphia don’t expect anything unusual on Tuesday, but they’ll be on the lookout anyway.
City District Attorney Seth Williams appeared with City Commissioners Anthony Clark, Al Schmidt, and Lisa Deeley Wednesday to tout the DA’s Election Fraud Task Force and assure voters of city’s vigilance. The task force will deploy 70 assistant district attorneys and dozens of detectives though the city, Williams said. Voters can also call 215-686-9641 to report suspected problems.
“We have had difficult campaigns before. We have faced challenging times together as a country,” he said. “And each and every time, we have run fair, open, and responsible elections.”
The coming election, however, will likely face greater scrutiny than past iterations. That’s because the man at the top of the Republican ticket, Donald Trump, has suggested the vote could be rigged against him. He’s even called out Pennsylvania in particular, saying the only way he could lose the Keystone State is if there’s Election Day cheating.
Williams didn’t mention Trump by name, but did nod in his direction several times.
“While this year’s election may seem different — I can’t recall another time when one of the nominees for president regularly and falsely states that our voting system is rigged — it’s not different,” Williams said.
Previously, most Election Day complaints came from voters who’ve gone to the wrong polling location and are upset to find they aren’t on the rolls. There are also instances, Williams said, when partisans stand too close to polling sites, in violation of the law.
“These are run-of-the-mill Election Day occurrences,” Williams said. “Despite what some say, we do not have rigged elections anywhere in the United States.”
It’s more common for conflict to occur in local primary elections where neighborhood tensions tend to run higher, he said. Still, he and others asked voters to keep their eyes open.
“I would repeat what the folks at Amtrak say, which is if you see something you have to say something,” said David Thornburgh, president and CEO of the Committee of Seventy.
There’s also been media chatter about Trump supporters going into urban areas such as Philadelphia to monitor — or perhaps harass — city voters.
Politico reported recently that a white supremacist organization plans to suppress turnout in Philadelphia’s predominantly black neighborhoods by distracting voters — though experts question the veracity of the group’s claims. The Guardian, meanwhile, said a group associated with political operative Roger Stone will conduct exit polls at various precincts to monitor for fraud.
Officials, however, don’t expect voter harassment or intimidation to be problems.
“I think it’s more urban legend that this could happen,” said Peter Berson, head of the Election Fraud Task Force. “We are prepared for it.”
State Republicans filed a federal lawsuit last week alleging that Pennsylvania’s poll watching law is unconstitutional. Current law mandates that official poll watchers be registered as voters in the county they’re serving. If the law is struck down, it could allow poll watchers from outside Philadelphia to monitor city polling stations on Election Day.
Several officials said such a ruling could create problems.
“I just don’t know how you’re gonna verify if someone came, let’s just say from Schuylkill County, that they were a registered voter even in Schuylkill County,” said Berson. “I mean, there’s procedural issues that would be very difficult to address on such a quick turnaround.”
City Commissioner Al Schmidt, a Republican, agreed. As did Thornburgh with the Committee of Seventy.
“At this late date, a judge’s decision in favor of that lawsuit would be an invitation to, I think, chaos and confusion that’s really unwarranted,” Thornburgh said.