The anti-police brutality protests that have rocked cities across Pennsylvania, and the heightened police and National Guard presence it’s prompted, could have a “chilling effect” on in-person voter turnout this primary election day, a leading voting rights group said Tuesday.
“We are hearing from partners who have people on the ground that police presence is certainly a chilling factor of being able to cast a ballot,” Suzanne Almeida, the interim executive director of Common Cause Pennsylvania, told journalists during a conference call.
Almeida said Tuesday that some roads have been blocked or barricaded, making it difficult for voters to get to their polling places. Almeida said she’s heard reports of some precincts that are only accessible right now for bicyclists and people on foot.
Many precincts in Pennsylvania have been consolidated, in some counties by more than 60 percent, due to COVID-19 related building closures. There have been more than 500 calls placed to a Common Cause voter helpline as of 2 p.m., with more than half of those calls from voters who need help finding their polling places, she said.
Almeida said she has also heard reports of polling places in Philadelphia that are completely disregarding social-distancing guidelines, which she said could likely be attributed to crowded precincts due to consolidation.
Philadelphia Jim Kenney imposed a city-wide curfew of 8:30 p.m., 30 minutes after polling places close. Almeida said there also are concerns over polling place workers who will likely need to be at their locations past that curfew and voters who may still be waiting in line.
On the City of Philadelphia website, it says individuals with “essential duties” will be permitted outdoors past the 8:30 curfew.
Other towns and counties have issued curfews this week, but it is uncertain if those curfews will be in place tonight.
“We’re concerned because we do not have clear guidance as of now from the city to be really explicit with voters and police that there is no threat of arrest if you are dropping off a ballot, or on your way home from dropping off a ballot in a dropbox, or if you’re voting and standing in line, or a poll worker,” Almeida said.
Some precincts have also been experiencing delays in opening, Almeida said, with machines being delivered to some polling places while voters are waiting in line. She said she’s also heard reports of staffing issues, but that there is not a clear connection between staffing issues and the protests.
Almeida said election officials could not start counting the high volume of mail-in ballots until 9 a.m. this morning, and she said there will likely not be results tonight.
Voters can search for their polling place location on the Department of State website.