Philly officials prepared for Election Day ‘shenanigans,’ promise safety at the polls

Jean Gary drops off her ballot at City Hall

Jean Gary, a North Philadelphia resident, drops off her ballot at City Hall. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

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

Less than 24 hours before polls open in Philadelphia, prosecutors, elected officials and police stood outside a city recreation center to deliver one message: Anyone eligible to vote on Tuesday will be able to do so safely.

“This is our chance, in the birthplace of democracy, to seize democracy and to achieve democracy,” said state Sen. Vincent Hughes during a news conference at Marian Anderson Recreation Center.

A record number of Philadelphia voters — well over 400,000 — requested mail ballots this year. But city officials still expect long lines at traditional polling places, which open at 7 a.m. and close at 8 p.m. on Tuesday.

Given the national spotlight shining on battleground Pennsylvania, and in turn Philadelphia, they’re also preparing for the real possibility of Election Day “shenanigans” at the polls.

The Philadelphia Police Department will have a “substantial amount” of officers dedicated to responding to any issues at the polls, said Commissioner Danielle Outlaw.

The city will have 718 polling places operating on Tuesday — more than three times the total during June’s primary election.

The District Attorney’s Office will also have prosecutors prepared to investigate any allegations of voter intimidation, coercion or electioneering. Under the law, campaigning is prohibited within 10 feet of a polling place.

“If you are planning in Philadelphia, to try to steal our votes, I got something for you,” said District Attorney Larry Krasner. “I got a jail cell, I got charging papers, and when you get to the end of the process I have a Philadelphia jury that you can tell why you thought it was OK to steal their votes.”

Pastor Wayne Weathers, a leader with the Black Clergy of Philadelphia and Vicinity, said voters should not be afraid to cast their ballots on Tuesday — even if they encounter people who want to stop them.

“Do not allow the attempts of voter suppression to discourage. Allow it to be motivation,” said Weathers. “If somebody has to take time to try to stop you from voting, that says that your vote matters.”

As long as you are in line by 8 p.m. on Election Day, you will be permitted to cast your ballot in-person.

Anyone who witnesses or suspects instances of voter intimidation, or other election-related crimes, is encouraged to call the District Attorney’s Election Task Force hotline at 215-686-9561.

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