Election Protection Coalition calls on Gov. Wolf to “ensure that Pennsylvania voters are not disenfranchised” tomorrow

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The Pennsylvania Election Protection Coalition is calling on Governor Wolf, mayors across the state, and elected officials to ensure that Pennsylvania voters are not disenfranchised at the polls or discouraged from voting in tomorrow’s primary election as a result of the law enforcement and National Guard response to recent protests.

In the wake of protests across the state, Governor Wolf has deployed National Guard personnel to municipalities that requested their presence, as part of a broader emergency declaration order. In addition, many cities, including Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and Upper Darby, have implemented a city-wide curfew.

While it is not clear what the next few hours will bring, members of the Pennsylvania Election Protection Coalition are calling on elected officials across the state to ensure that no voter is disenfranchised or discouraged from exercising their right to cast a ballot tomorrow.  The coalition is led by a core group of organizations, including Common Cause Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania Voice, ACLU of Pennsylvania, the Pitt Institute for Cyber Law, Policy, and Security (Pitt Cyber), All Voting is Local, the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and the Fair Elections Center.

“We stand with the vast majority of peaceful protesters and honor their anger and grief,” said Suzanne Almeida, interim Executive Director of Common Cause Pennsylvania. “Our concern is to make sure every eligible voter who wants to vote on Tuesday can do so, without fear of repercussions, concern about abiding by curfew regulations, and the inevitably suppressive effect of heavy police or military presence in the vicinity of our polling places.”

Pennsylvania’s Election Code clearly prohibits the presence of police or National Guard members within 100 feet of polling places, unless they are voting or they were called by poll workers to respond to specific incidents. However, police and National Guard presence outside of that boundary will still have a suppressive effect on voters. Police and National Guard members should not be visible from a polling place or mail-in ballot dropbox location, unless required for some other lawful reason.

“There are many reasons that people, especially people of color, are wary of police and military members. The protests this week have demonstrated that,” said Ray Murphy, of Pennsylvania Voice. “It’s essential that police and military deployment do not deter voters from voting. This means that voters should not have to pass through formations of police or national guard members to get to a ballot drop box or their polling place, nor should they feel watched or threatened as they are exercising their right to vote.”

Additionally, it must be made clear that voting cannot be curtailed under curfew orders. Voters who are going to the polls to vote, waiting in line to vote, and returning home from voting must not be under threat of arrest for violations of curfew. Nor should poll workers face fear of arrest when traveling to and from polling places on Election Day. This must also include returning a voted mail-in or absentee ballot at a county election office or other designated drop off location. As of 6:00 p.m. today, Governor Wolf announced his executive order, extending the vote-by-mail deadline an additional week. Voters will now have until 8:00 p.m on June 9th to return their ballots.

The Election Protection Coalition is calling on mayors of those cities who have imposed curfew orders to explicitly name voting as an approved reason for being outside one’s home during curfew hours.

“Everyone deserves to cast their ballots free from threat, intimidation or militarized police presence,” said Scott Seeborg, All Voting is Local’s Pennsylvania State Director. “It is imperative given the disruptions in Philadelphia that we ensure voters are not disenfranchised.”

“Our Pennsylvania elected officials must guarantee that all eligible voters will be free to cast their ballots, without intimidation,” said Sara Mullen, associate director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania. “Voting is one way for people to channel their anger and frustration. We cannot ask people to risk their lives and freedoms to cast a ballot. It is on our elected officials to make sure that is not necessary.”