Voting Rights Leaders: Pennsylvania Officials Must Prepare Now for the November Election

PHILADELPHIA –Voting rights leaders urged Pennsylvania officials to carry out a series of election reforms now for the November election to avoid repeating the problems that occurred in Tuesday’s primary.   

In today’s telephone press briefing, advocates from The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, All Voting is Local, and local voting rights organizations said that despite having an additional two months to plan, Pennsylvania officials failed to fulfill their obligation to voters.  On Tuesday, voters in Black and Brown communities needlessly faced long lines and confusion at the polls because of last-minute polling place closures, voting machines that didn’t work, a lack of ballot drop boxes, and a militarized police presence at or near some locations in Allegheny and Philadelphia counties.

The full audio recording of this call is available here.

“The confluence of the COVID-19 pandemic and growing protests over police brutality and state violence against Black Americans present unique challenges to holding an election,” said Vanita Gupta, president and CEO, The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. “But while these are unprecedented times, Pennsylvania’s elected officials fell short of fulfilling their obligation to ensure every voter can cast a ballot that counts. The Pennsylvania primary election was largely seen as a dress rehearsal for the November general election — and it’s clear state officials need to act now to ensure safe, fair, and accessible elections later this year.”

“While it is laudable that Pennsylvania officials processed almost 2 million mail-in ballot applications, they fell short fulfilling their obligations to democracy,” said Scott Seeborg, Pennsylvania State Director, All Voting is Local. “Pennsylvania voters faced unnecessary hurdles to the ballot at every turn in this primary election. And, it is the responsibility of elected officials to ensure that every eligible voter can safely cast a ballot that counts. One way to ensure that is to include a paid postage return envelope with each mail-in ballot.” 

“Accessible Voting Centers are the least that we can do to honor the sacrifices of last century’s Freedom Fighters who won the Voting Rights Act,”  said Erin Kramer, Executive Director, One Pennsylvania. “This week’s election revealed we are shamefully short of our commitment to universal suffrage. Voters endured long lines at consolidating polling places and many Black voters were met with a militarized police presence as they cast their ballots. We all have a great deal of work ahead of November to ensure that Pennsylvania does not repeat what we saw in the primary.”

“Tuesday’s election presented many challenges, particularly with voter confusion, under-resourced county elections offices, and the impact of increased police presence in our cities,” said Suzanne Almeida, interim executive director, Common Cause Pennsylvania. “We are calling on our elected and appointed officials to take all necessary steps to ensure that every eligible voter can cast a ballot, either by mail or in person and make their voices heard on election day in November. This means adequate funding for our election administration infrastructure, community engagement to ensure that voters are educated and polling places are located appropriately, and implementing legislative fixes such as vote centers and changing the deadlines for voted mail-in ballots to be received by the counties.”

“Although we saw a low in person voter turnout in Pennsylvania’s primary, we still saw voters in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh waiting over an hour to vote due to consolidated poll sites,” said Ivan Garcia, civic engagement director, Make the Road PA. “It is very possible that we can see these waits across the state, in the general election, if we don’t increase the number of voters who vote by mail. One way to fix this is for the state to send every registered voter a ballot. At the very least, every voter should be sent a vote by mail application. Luzerne and Allegheny did this and they are amongst the counties with the highest percentage of voters who requested a ballot.” 

“We experienced a perfect storm leading up to the primary, including COVID-19 and the expansion of vote-by-mail,” said Sara Mullen, associate director/director of advocacy and policy, ACLU of Pennsylvania. “It was not a surprise, then, to see that our underfunded election offices experienced some significant problems, including many voters who either received their ballots too late to mail in or not at all. With the expected increase in voter interest in the fall and the 15 day registration deadline, election offices will face more demand for the full range of voter services. It is critical that those offices are properly funded. We hope counties across the state take the many issues we saw and use this as a learning opportunity. We urge counties and the state to provide resources that election directors need to make sure that every eligible voter gets to cast a ballot that is counted in this critical election.”