Philly commissioners cut number of polling places, hope everyone votes by mail

Pat Loeb
May 14, 2020 - 8:47 am

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — Philadelphia would have one-quarter of the usual number of polling places for the June 2 primary under a plan approved by the city commissioners on Wednesday. The commissioners also voted to increase poll worker pay, but what they really want is for everyone to vote by mail.

The Philadelphia City Commissioners adopted a plan on Wednesday to slash the number of polling places for the June 2 primary election. They’re hoping most voters will use mail-in ballots.

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Commission Chair Lisa Deeley says the plan reduces polling places from 831 to 190. Voters will get a post card with their polling place on it, and a notice of the new sites will be posted at all of the old sites.

The change comes partly because some of the usual sites are non-essential businesses that are closed, but mostly because commissioners expect far fewer poll workers, who tend to be over age 50.

“Our biggest challenge is that our poll workers are largely from the most at-risk category and certainly we want everybody to be safe,” she said.

The commissioners also voted to raise poll worker pay, but they’re prepared to call in the National Guard to staff the polls, if necessary.
 
They say what they really want is for everyone to vote by mail. 

“For the health and safety of our voters and our poll workers, we are encouraging everyone in Philadelphia to vote by mail,” she said.

This is the first election where anyone can vote by mail, thanks to a coincidence that David Thornburg, of election watchdog group Committee of Seventy, compares to a “bank error in our favor.” The legislature changed the voting law last fall. 

“Fortunately we’re not having to debate the merits of passing that law right now. Sometimes you do things and they just work out,” Thornburg said.

Many are opting in. The election board has received 115,000 applications for mail-in ballots. That’s 110,000 more than usual. 

Deeley says the commissioners’ office is working 12 hours a day to process applications. She says they have mailed out about 65,000 ballots so far.

But there are also skeptics, who don’t trust the postal service. David Thornburg of the election watchdog group Committee of Seventy wants to ease their minds.

“We trust our tax returns to the post office. We trust our passports to the post office. The post office comes through for us, so voting by mail is still far and away the best option,” he said.

The deadline to apply for mail-in ballots is May 26. The ballots are due back by election day though Deeley says she’s hoping the legislature will extend that by a week. 

Anyone still wanting to vote in person will need to wear a mask and should be prepared to wait. And the line will seem even longer because social distancing.