Curfews Could Affect Election Day in Some Cities

[Image via inquirer]

Curfews put in place in several cities in the wake of protests over racial injustice sparked by the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis could create problems for voters seeking to cast ballots in primaries today. The Philadelphia Inquirer has one story:

Facing one of the most unprecedented elections in memory, Philadelphia officials are trying to assure voters they’ll be able to get to polling places for Tuesday’s primary without interference, despite the global pandemic and ongoing civil unrest.

The good news: You won’t automatically get put in handcuffs for heading to vote after 6 p.m. should the city extend its nightly lockdown into Tuesday.

“Philly residents will not be arrested or prosecuted for going to or coming from voting tomorrow,” said District Attorney Larry Krasner. “No curfew is going to interfere with any voter going to the polls. Please do not let these circumstances dissuade you.”

City Commissioner Lisa Deeley said her office is developing a contingency plan in the event that access to polling places — already reduced by nearly 80% by the pandemic — is hindered by ongoing protests or looting. That plan could involve relocating a polling location or funneling voters to another location, though details were scarce.

A steep decline had long been expected for in-person voter turnout, even prior to the protests over police brutality and institutional racism. More than 1.8 million Pennsylvanians have been approved for mail-in ballots.

The city’s top prosecutor said he didn’t think the unlawful activity would interfere with voters who still plan to vote in person.

“Philadelphia is a tough city,” Krasner said. “I don’t think any of the looters out there are trying to steal votes. I think they’re trying to steal clothes.”

But officials will still be carefully monitoring, watching for the usual array of voting concerns…

Officials urged voters who plan to vote in person tomorrow to develop a plan now. SEPTA services might be curtailed, and the changes in polling locations will likely require advanced planning. Last-minute questions about your polling place tomorrow? Call the commissioners at 215-686-1590.

“We all recognize that we are having an election in a very challenging time,” Deeley said. “We’re all doing everything we can to make sure that tomorrow is a good election day for everyone tomorrow.”

In DC, voters have been told that they are exempt from that city’s curfew but some are concerned about police activity, according to Slate:

Washington, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser put the city under a strict curfew Monday and Tuesday nights, barring most residents from leaving their house after 7 p.m. But the District is in the midst of a primary election, and voting centers will remain open until 8 p.m. on both nights. Tuesday is the final day to cast a ballot. Residents who vote on either night may therefore risk arrest while walking to or from the polls after curfew. And Bowser has declined to explain how they can avoid a confrontation with law enforcement in the process…

On Monday, a spokesperson for Bowser told Politico’s Zach Montellaro: “Voting is essential, therefore DC residents voting will be exempt to the curfew.” Montellaro then asked if Bowser’s office had communicated with the Board of Elections, provided guidance to poll workers, or established “proof” residents might need to convince police they broke curfew to vote. The spokesperson did not know the answer to any of these questions.

In Baltimore, the Sun reports that the city election office closed and locked down its drop box because of its proximity to protests at City Hall:

The Baltimore Board of Elections closed early on the eve of the state’s primary amid concerns about safety at its office, which is near where protests were centered over the weekend.

The elections office in the 400 block of East Fayette Street closed at 3 p.m. Monday, according to a tweet from the city board. Also, a ballot drop-off box outside was locked shut at 1 p.m..

Director Armstead Jones said Monday morning he was concerned about his staff going in and out of the office amid protests. The office was already closed to walk-in visits, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but was still allowing voters to make appointments to come in.

“I can’t have my people jeopardized,” Jones said. “We’re right there at City Hall…”

Baltimore’s ballot drop boxes are being monitored by cameras and watched by either police or security teams. Jones said the box outside the elections office was undisturbed during protests Saturday and Sunday.

He said the box at elections headquarters would reopen Tuesday at 6 a.m. Also, the elections office will be open on primary day.

These curfew-related questions are yet another obstacle for election officials to overcome in an election season already dominated by concerns about COVID-19. In theory, the expansion of mail balloting should reduce foot traffic to in-person voting locations, but given reported problems many voters have experienced in receiving their ballots, or being assured that they have been received and counted, some voters may decide to venture out. There are already so many questions about the protests and the police response – I would hate to see voters subject to enforcement activity simply because they wish to cast a ballot. Please be safe out there everyone …

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