The vote goes on in Philly: Polling places in uncertain times

Voters going to the polls in the city should be mindful of disruptions caused by both widespread unrest and pandemic distancing.

Polling place

(Dan Levy/Billy Penn)

Philadelphia had been preparing for a primary election during the coronavirus pandemic shutdown, urging people to vote by mail and consolidating polling places into central locations.

So, for example, the Boone School in the Sharswood neighborhood will host 17 voting districts in the 29th Ward. The Pennsylvania Convention Center in Center City’s 5th Ward will host 18 districts.

But the situation has become more complicated as protests have broken out all over the city. Mayor Jim Kenney asked Gov. Tom Wolf for assistance from the state. The Pennsylvania Department of State and the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency will assist Philadelphia police and its Board of Elections in ensuring a safe and fair election.

Kenney, like county election officials across the state, asked Wolf to extend the deadline for mail-in ballots. Monday afternoon, the governor issued an executive order that will allow voters to return their ballots by 8 p.m. June 9.

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In Philadelphia, should a curfew once again be put in place Tuesday, it will not affect voting. If you are in line to vote by 8 p.m., when the polls officially close, you will be able to vote.

However, you should have a plan before you leave your home, officials urge.

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“SEPTA may be difficult to access,” said Andrew Wellbrock, an assistant district attorney and chief of the District Attorney’s Office Election Task Force. “Personally, my polling place moved about a mile away. Keep in mind there may be impediments you are not expecting.”

The Kimmel Center in Center City will host the polling places for nine districts. Last year, the cultural campus on South Broad Street hosted five districts.

To accommodate the nine polling stations, the flow of foot traffic through the Kimmel’s plaza will be tightly controlled. Security outside the building will determine how people enter and exit the building.

“Nine voters — which is one per station — will be allowed to enter the building through the North Broad doors, and voters will exit through the Spruce Street doors,” said Kimmel president and CEO Anne Ewers.

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Whether voters are dropping off mail-in ballots or walking into polling places on Tuesday, District Attorney Larry Krasner tried to offer assurances that whatever civil unrest occurs on Election Day will not hamper residents from performing their civic duty.

“I don’t think looters are stealing votes, I think they are trying to steal clothes,” said Krasner. “So I would not expect your path troubled by criminal activity that is going on. If anything, I think some of these ideological protesters will help you get to the polls.”

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