Community Voices Concerns About Voting During Pandemic

PHILADELPHIA – All Voting is Local and Pennsylvania Voice held a virtual town hall Thursday to discuss the voting by mail option and the consolidation of polling places ahead of Pennsylvania’s June 2 primary amid COVID-19 safety concerns. State officials and voting rights advocates, along with a language access specialist, reached more than 14,000 Pennsylvania voters with details about the rescheduled primary, information about recently announced polling place closures in Philadelphia, and resources for non-native English speakers.

As Pennsylvanians prepare to cast their votes in the June 2 primary, they must be able to do so safely. Election officials must act now to ensure this and future elections are safe, accessible, and fair to all voters – particularly in historically disenfranchised Black and Brown communities where polling places are often the first to shutter. 

Additionally, voters without a fixed address or with limited internet access, people with disabilities, and people who need language assistance (10.6% of Philadelphians have limited English proficiency) still require safe in-person voting options before and on Election Day. 

The full audio of last night’s town hall can be found in English here and in Spanish here.

“While vote by mail must be a key part of any election response plan, voters must also have a clear range of options to safely and effectively cast their ballots,” said Scott Seeborg, Pennsylvania State director at All Voting is Local. “During this public health emergency, no one should have to put their lives at risk to cast a ballot. At the same time, focusing exclusively on vote by mail could disenfranchise large swaths of voters who have historically faced barriers to the ballot.”

“Thanks to historic bipartisan legislation signed into law last fall  by Governor Wolf, all Pennsylvanians can now vote by mail-in ballot without having to provide an excuse. This is a safe, convenient and secure option for voters as we combat the COVID-19 public health emergency,” said Jessica Walls-Lavelle, director of the Governor’s Southwest Office and Special Advisor to the Governor’s Chief of Staff.

“The Department of State and Pennsylvania counties are working around-the-clock to ensure a smooth primary election on June 2. We want voters to know they can safely, securely, and confidently exercise their right to vote,” said Rachel Boss, community impact manager in the Department of State’s Bureau of Campaign Finance and Civic Engagement.

“We are reaching out on multiple fronts to educate voters about the new option to vote by mail-in ballot and to inform them about the extensive precautions the Department of State and counties are taking to keep polling places safe and sanitary on election day for those voters who choose to vote in person,” said Steve Latanishen, director of Intergovernmental Affairs for the Pennsylvania Department of State.

“The option to vote by mail during this public health emergency is one that voters should seriously consider to ensure their safety,” said Will Gonzalez, Esq., executive director, Ceiba. “However, if all people are not equally provided a full range of options to safely cast a ballot, then what appears as accessibility is perverted into a barrier. We need to make sure that all voices are heard at the local level. Now more than ever it is important that we inform people about the democratic process.”