Philly mobilizing to deter fraud at polls during primaries

Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner (center) with Philadelphia City Commissioner Lisa M. Deeley; Minister Rodney Muhammad, president of the Philadelphia NAACP; and Assistant District Attorney Peter Berson. They say the city is ready to respond to any Primary Election Day issues through the Election Fraud Task Force. (Lindsay Lazarski/WHYY)

Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner (center) with Philadelphia City Commissioner Lisa M. Deeley; Minister Rodney Muhammad, president of the Philadelphia NAACP; and Assistant District Attorney Peter Berson. They say the city is ready to respond to any Primary Election Day issues through the Election Fraud Task Force. (Lindsay Lazarski/WHYY)

In preparation for Tuesday’s primary elections in Pennsylvania, the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office is mobilizing a special task force to keep an eye on the polls.

About 65 assistant district attorneys will be deployed throughout the city to quickly respond to any complaints of voter fraud or voter intimidation.

“Get out there tomorrow and cast your vote, it’s important,” said District Attorney Larry Krasner. “If you experience any issues at the polling place — we usually get calls that range from electioneering inside the polling place to concerns with the voting process itself — please call our Elections Fraud Task Force so we can look into the issue.”

Assistant District Attorney Peter Berson, the task force chief, said the hotly contested races range from Congress to state House and Senate down to committee positions.

“They could boil into something,” said Berson. “We are hoping for no problems. We’re not anticipating any problems, in terms of voting, but if there are, that’s what we’re here for.”

Last year, four Philadelphia election officials were criminally charged with voter fraud and intimidation for interfering in a March 2017 special election for the 197th State House District seat in North Philadelphia. And, in September, Philadelphia city commissioners brought to light that hundreds of ineligible immigrants registered to vote over the last decade through Pennsylvania’s Department of Transportation; about half had voted in one or more elections. Statewide, it’s still unclear exactly how many noncitizens are registered to vote.

Berson, who said the special election in the 197th District was a unique case, said he does not expect repeat violations.

Philadelphia City Commissioner Lisa Deeley, chairwoman of the task force commission, assured voters that they would be ready for the primary elections.

Lauren Cristella, chief advancement officer for election watchdog and good government group the Committee of Seventy, and Minister Rodney Muhammad, president of Philadelphia’s NAACP Chapter, also support the task force efforts.

“The Committee of Seventy encourages voters to be mindful of their rights and responsibilities when casting a ballot,” Cristella said.

No campaigning is allowed in polling places — including handing out buttons, fliers or other partisan materials, she said. And all candidates and their representatives must remain outside of the polling area when talking to voters.

Stressing the importance of protecting people’s right to vote, Muhammad said the NAACP can help if anyone feels they have been denied that right.

“I have attended many rallies, many marches,” he said. “I’ve heard many speakers on loud speakers and bullhorns, but no voice is stronger and louder for those that want to serve in government to hear than when we go to the ballot.”

If voters encounter any problems at the polls in Philadelphia or have a complaint, they should contact the district attorney’s Election Fraud Task Force at 215-686-9641, the city commissioners Election Day Hotline at 215-686–1590, or the NAACP at 215-455-1011.

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