Kenney, Deeley pen open letter to Philly voters: ‘Stay calm’

Residents are lined up to voted at City Hall in Philadelphia

Residents are lined up to voted at City Hall in Philadelphia. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Ask us: What do you want to know about voting and the 2020 election?

With only one day until Election Day, Mayor Jim Kenney and Lisa Deeley, chair of the Philadelphia City Commissioners, have penned an open letter to Philadelphia voters urging patience.

Many Americans, including those in campaign hotspots around Philly and in battleground Pennsylvania at large, are on edge. Nearly 70% of respondents cited the elections as a significant source of stress, according to a recent survey from the American Psychological Association.

A recent report by an international nonprofit that tracks militia groups said Pennsylvania is one of five U.S. states at high risk of violence through Nov. 3, based on recent activity by white supremacist groups.

Against the backdrop of this general anxiety, Philly’s mayor and chair of the city commissioners made their case for calm.

“Amid all the speeches and slogans, the tweets and talk shows, the rallies and rhetoric, the election in Philadelphia really comes down to some very simple concepts,” Kenney and Deeley wrote. “Fairness, integrity, access, and accurate results.”

The pair stressed the bipartisan nature of the bipartisan city commissioners, explaining that “this will be a truly democratic election — small ‘d.’”

Any aggressive behavior or voter intimidation at the polls won’t be tolerated, the officials wrote, including attempts by individuals who are not certified poll watchers to access polling locations and observe voting.

Voters are encouraged to report possible criminal attempts to interfere with or influence voting and election activity by calling the DAO Election Task Force hotline at 215-686-9641.

Voting rights advocates also have recruited thousands of volunteers across the commonwealth to monitor polling sites for issues and protect against voter intimidation through the Pennsylvania Election Protection Coalition. Lawyers will be on hand to answer questions via a nonpartisan election protection hotline: 1-866-OUR-VOTE.

Kenney and Deeley reminded residents that the voting machines in place for Nov. 3 have been successfully used in two prior elections, and that more equipment has been added to help speed the process of counting mail ballots.

The city explained that more than 700 polling places will be open to voters Tuesday, with COVID-19 safety precautions in place.

Election officials will be working tirelessly to count every ballot, the pair wrote, including more than 400,000 mail and absentee ballots. By law, staffers are not allowed to start opening and counting these ballots until Election Day. A full tally of mail ballots may easily take several days, according to officials.

Long lines are expected at the polls due to both high turnout and social distancing protocols separating voters by six feet.

Kenney and Deeley ended their letter with a simple plea: “Please be patient.”

“The people working your voting station and waiting with you are your neighbors,” the officials said.

City officials acknowledged that Philadelphians have been through a difficult year. Outside of the coronavirus pandemic, which is seeing a rise in cases locally and nationally, and a summer of protests against police brutality and systemic racism, Philadelphians continue to call for justice in the wake of the police killing of Walter Wallace Jr., a 27-year-old Black man who was shot in the midst of a mental health crisis last week in Cobbs Creek.

Kenney and Deeley urged voters to “let your inner strength guide you,” and stay above the fray.

The call for peace comes after ongoing demonstrations in West Philadelphia over Wallace’s killing. Overnight citywide curfews were imposed last Wednesday and Friday. Pennsylvania National Guard troops called up by Gov. Tom Wolf, which deployed to Philadelphia on Friday, remain in the city.

“With your help, we are confident that our city will shine as an example of how to run an election right,” Kenney and Deeley wrote. “Because we are Philadelphia.”

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