Facing one of the most unprecedented elections in memory, Philadelphia officials are trying to assure voters they’ll be able to get to polling places for Tuesday’s primary without interference, despite the global pandemic and ongoing civil unrest.
The good news: You won’t automatically get put in handcuffs for heading to vote after 6 p.m. should the city extend its nightly lockdown into Tuesday.
“Philly residents will not be arrested or prosecuted for going to or coming from voting tomorrow,” said District Attorney Larry Krasner. “No curfew is going to interfere with any voter going to the polls. Please do not let these circumstances dissuade you.”
City Commissioner Lisa Deeley said her office is developing a contingency plan in the event that access to polling places — already reduced by nearly 80% by the pandemic — is hindered by ongoing protests or looting. That plan could involve relocating a polling location or funneling voters to another location, though details were scarce.
A steep decline had long been expected for in-person voter turnout, even prior to the protests over police brutality and institutional racism. More than 1.8 million Pennsylvanians have been approved for mail-in ballots.
The city’s top prosecutor said he didn’t think the unlawful activity would interfere with voters who still plan to vote in person.
“Philadelphia is a tough city,” Krasner said. “I don’t think any of the looters out there are trying to steal votes. I think they’re trying to steal clothes.”
But officials will still be carefully monitoring, watching for the usual array of voting concerns.
Krasner said his office’s Election Task Force will be available from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. to receive calls about allegations of fraud or electioneering in the booth. Investigators at the DA’s Office will be dispatched to investigate claims of fraud.
The Election Force hotline can be reached at 215-686-9641, 9643 or 9644.
“If the call volume is high, just keep trying,” said Assistant District Attorney Andrew Wellbrock, the task force chief. “We will get back to people.”
All the usual rules for Election Day apply, Wellbrock noted. There are also some new guidelines:
- Campaign workers must stand at least 10 feet away from the polling place.
- Voter assistance inside the booth is available only for people with disabilities, like blindness or literacy issues.
- If you’re in line by 8 p.m., you’ll still be able to cast your vote — curfew or not.
- Polling locations will be taped off to account for social distancing requirements.
- No one will be turned away from the booth for not wearing a mask, but masks are strongly encouraged.
- PPE and antiseptic wipes will be provided to voters who don’t have them.
Armed police are prohibited from coming within 100 feet of a polling location unless called there to quell an incident, Wellbrock said.
Officials urged voters who plan to vote in person tomorrow to develop a plan now. SEPTA services might be curtailed, and the changes in polling locations will likely require advanced planning. Last-minute questions about your polling place tomorrow? Call the commissioners at 215-686-1590.
“We all recognize that we are having an election in a very challenging time,” Deeley said. “We’re all doing everything we can to make sure that tomorrow is a good election day for everyone tomorrow.”