Philly Officials: Mess With Our Vote and Find Out!

When they go low, we wipe the floor with them.

PHILADELPHIA- Poll hustling, voter suppression, and election vigilantism are nothing new in America. Neither is the disinformation that creates the antidemocratic pawns carrying out these vicious, racist assaults on our community and country. But lately there has been a groundswell of decentralized efforts across the country to disrupt, harass and suppress voter turnout, with Pennsyvlania in their crosshairs. Let’s not get it twisted: these recent efforts are no less racist, violent, or fascistic than they were in the 1880s at their peak.

Philly’s massive turnouts in 2018 and 2020 helped oust their cult leader and put some adults in the room, preventing Mango-Mussolini’s attempted violent coup on January 6th. The fascists on the Right haven’t forgotten our role in that effort. They are determined not only to prevent it from happening again, but to punish us if they can succeed in their attempt to end Democracy as we know it.

Across the country, Republicans have already filed more than 100 lawsuits targeting mail-in voting, early voting, voter access, voting machines, registration, counting mismarked mail-in ballots, and access for partisan poll watchers.

These aren’t the sort of haphazard lawsuits we saw in 2020, led by morons farting in hearings, but real lawyers with serious, malevolent arguments backed by mountains of billionaire bucks. Republicans are determined to disrupt and sow chaos and confusion so that their lies and partisan ballot challenges can succeed where Trump failed in 2020.

The Republican National Committee (RNC) hired 37 lawyers in critical states and held more than five thousand training sessions to train “poll watchers” to look for “voter fraud.” Stephen Miller and Doug Mastriano ally Toni Shuppe lead other pro-Trump teams of election deniers, training more than 6,000 poll watchers in Pennsylvania. A coalition of far-right groups like Tea Party Action, Audit the Vote PA, VoterGA, Michigan Fair Elections, Conservative Partnership Institute, Heritage Action, a sister organization of the Heritage Foundation, and the Honest Elections Project have established “task forces” in 305 counties across ten battleground states. These groups are employing various dirty tricks to disrupt the mid-term elections.

Toni Shuppe is on the short list of potential candidates for Secretary of State for PA if Doug Mastriano is elected Governor. She’s also the CEO of Audit the VotePA, a leader in the effort to subvert elections in Pennsylvania. Audit the VotePA has gone so far as to harass and stalk nursing homes and elderly care facilities, and administrators. The group claims they’re simply ensuring vulnerable people’s right to vote is protected, but reading the original document, their intent to intimidate elderly care workers is clear.

In Michigan, GOP officials have been caught encouraging their poll workers to act as spies – instructing them to secretly (and illegally) use their phones to record anything suspicious. As we’ve seen with debunked “documentaries” like 2,000 Mules: conspiracy theorists don’t need actual proof to build a case. GOP mouthpieces are only too happy to repeat half-assed reports; all the better to spread lies and confusion to dismantle our faith in fair elections.

We even have independent operators, throwing their sand in the works. In Florida – where else? – there’s a dude calling himself “Lone Racoon” mucking up midterms by flooding state election offices with requests for voter records. He claims he’s being “led by God” to create a public database so anyone with an internet connection can “investigate” election data for any evidence of fraud. His demands for literally millions of files, however, are basically a SPAM attack on local election offices with limited staffing who are urgently needed to oversee voting in their districts (most in key states). With many others across the country following suit, it appears to be a mass effort to distract, disrupt, and ultimately deny.

Let’s talk about ballot drop boxes. These are heavy, high-grade metal, bolted to the ground with security features like locks, seals, fire/water damage protections – many are under 24-hour video surveillance. Drop boxes are an extremely secure way to vote, but if the GOP has serious concerns they should absolutely speak up so we can fix the problem, right? But they don’t, do they? Instead, we’ve got armed guards patrolling ballot boxes for… what, exactly?

These “citizen-led” efforts to watch and defend ballot boxes are basically voter intimidation. Videoing, photographing, documenting vehicle tags — none of this addresses any actual problems, and all of it simply sets the stage for an escalation to violence and harassment. Republicans are playing with fire. Our jobs, our safety, our voice, and even our fundamental rights as human beings are at risk. Indeed, they’ve announced sweeping, chilling goals affecting all of us, should they take office:

Banning contraception (and suspecting murder in the case of miscarriages), cuts to Medicare & Social Security, a national “Don’t Say Gay” law, not to mention a host of aggressive, groundless investigations and a potential nightmare of arrests and executions should the Q-Anons realize their ultimate objectives.

With all this at stake, Pennsylvanians who might normally sit out a midterm election are unable to stand idly by. In some instances, voters have been a little too eager, inadvertently providing fodder for misinformation.

A fake news alert made the rounds last week, showing what purports to be video proof of a “pre-loaded” drop box. Bullshit! The locked boxes happened to have a small space that allowed voters to slip their ballots in before election administrators were able to put in the official Early Ballot Bag.

“Those votes can’t be counted, but we’re in contact with the voters in question so they can cast their ballots properly,” said Micheal Pipe (D) County Commission Chair and Chair of the Election Board in Centre County. “We’re tweaking our procedure to reduce the chance of this sort of confusion in the future, but there is no such thing as Pre-Stuffed Ballot Boxes; that’s just nonsense.”

Philadelphia isn’t taking any chances with these jackaloons. Officials and local voter advocacy groups have gone to great lengths to ensure that everyone eligible to vote can do so safely and that their vote will be counted.

“People must understand that for all their authoritarian efforts, voters in Pennsylvania turned out in 2020 in record numbers, they made their voices heard, electing both Democrats and Republicans across the state, and those votes were counted, and we’ll do it again,” said Rev. Mark Tyler the pastor of Mother Bethel AME Church and a leading voice in voter advocacy in Philadelphia.

“Forewarned is forearmed and we are prepared for anything they throw at us, it will be safe for you to vote the same as it’s always been,” City Commissioner Omar Sabir said.

A Philly voter bangs on a pan with the message ‘Let Freedom Ring.’ (Cory Clark)

Advocates told us they planned to have a lot of boots on the ground to ensure that no voter intimidation happens throughout the election process in Philadelphia, especially on Election Day. “We’ll have people available to provide accurate information, ensure ballots aren’t illegally challenged and resolve any issue that may arise like changing polling locations or polling locations closing too early.” Said Tyler.

“We want to make sure every eligible voter can have their vote counted, Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court must have the correct handwritten date on return mail-in ballot envelopes, but otherwise, Pennsylvania’s mail-in voting laws remain in effect, said Marian Schneider, a Pennsylvania based voting rights attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union. “Counties will be able to notify voters if there is an issue with their mail-in ballot so they can correct it.”

“Pennsylvania election laws provide many built-in defenses against voting fraud; I’m not saying that all elections are perfect, but by and large, they work the way they’re supposed to,” said Schneider. “The election code has procedures in it to detect, deter, and punishing fraud, and generally, it works.”

“Sometimes with extremists, it’s necessary to knock on their foreheads early, and that’s what we’re doing now,” District Attorney Larry Krasner said. “We’re making sure you have the information you need so you do not get yourself into a pair of handcuffs, because believe me, if you try to interfere with or erase the votes of Philadelphians, that’s exactly where you’re going to be.”

Philadelphia’s more than 700 polling sites across the city will have around-the-clock video surveillance to ensure that voters and poll workers will be safe. “It will be safe for you to vote or work as a poll worker, you have my guarantee,” said Sabir. “I believe we have the best law enforcement officers in the country and they’re prepared for this.”

“The first Amendment doesn’t protect you if you are using threats, harassment, violence or incitement to commit violence,” said Mary McCord, executive director at the Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection.

“If you are misleading voters, telling people fraudulent information about voting, suggesting something is illegal that isn’t, challenging voters at polling places or drop boxes, you will be prosecuted,” said Krasner. “Even if you are just yelling at them, following them to their car, copying their license plate number, we’re not going to tolerate any of that nonsense.”

Philadelphians Celebrate President-elect Joe Biden and VP-elect Kamala Harris’s presidential election victory by marching from Independence Mall to City Hall in Philadelphia, PA, on November 7, 2020. (Cory Clark)

If you have questions related to voting from now through Election Day, get help by calling 866-687-8683, which can also be reached by dialing 866-OUR-VOTE.

Information about Voter Intimidation

Rules for Poll Watchers

PA Upcoming Elections

Philly Upcoming Elections

Dive deeper into election issues by clicking the links in this post (and hitting “play” on the videos).

NOTE: we want to make sure we can expose any anti-democratic BS happening in our community, so if you have experienced voter intimidation or voter suppression, please shoot us an email at editors@nwlocalpaper.com or call/text 215-498-8874 and let us know what happened. Please include any documentation you may have.

About Cory Clark 47 Articles
Cory Clark is a Photojournalist and writer focused on Human Rights and other social issues. His work can be found in hundreds of media outlets from Philly Magazine to Fortune. He has been a long time freelancer for Getty Images, The Associated Press, and Association French Presse. Cory, his wife, and son are residents of East Germantown.

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