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Philadelphia’s Election Follies

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eye on the news

Philadelphia’s Election Follies

A scene from Ground Zero of ballot confusion November 11, 2020
Politics and law

On Election Day, I entered my local polling place in Philadelphia, expecting to cast my vote for president, when I was informed that because I had received a mail-in ballot I could not vote at the facility. Instead, I would have to fill out a provisional ballot. But I never received a mail-in ballot because, two months prior to the election, I requested that my name—which a housemate had inadvertently added to the mail-in ballot list—be taken off the list. My name was stricken, and I was assured that I would not experience problems voting in person on November 3.

Sensing, perhaps, that I was upset at receiving a provisional ballot, a clerk at the polling place, who happened to be a neighbor, bent the rules and allowed me to vote by machine. That evening I rechecked my mail-in ballot status on a city website and read that I had received a mail-in ballot that was as yet unreturned, or “pending.”

This confusion is tiny compared with the post-election allegations of voter fraud reported in Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and throughout the nation. Yet multiplied by hundreds of thousands or millions of instances, it suggests that suspicions of enormous confusion, carelessness, and possible fraud generated by the mail-in ballot experiment of 2020 could have some basis in fact.

Pennsylvania’s vote-counting ended late on Election Night with President Trump in the lead, but the counting picked up again in the wee hours, when boxes of mail-in ballots suddenly materialized. The extra ballots were counted at the Pennsylvania Convention Center, where Biden-Harris activists wasted no time in organizing a street watch rally dubbed “Count Every Vote.”

Word circulated of pandemonium at the Convention Center at 12th and Arch Streets on the day after the election, so I headed down there to get a sense of things.

The area buzzed with activity. Two men from Virginia with guns had been arrested outside the Center where the mail-in ballots were being counted. Police stood on alert. Helicopters circled in the air around City Hall for hours as bands of cops positioned themselves on street corners throughout Center City. Members of the Pennsylvania National Guard flanked the area around City Hall as groups of “Count Every Vote” protesters, wearing “Out Now” stickers (as in, get Trump out now), scurried to 12th and Arch, where they waved signs and screamed “F--- Donald Trump.”

A line of police officers divided Out Now protesters from Trump supporters. On the Trump side, multiracial rappers used a powerful sound system to belt out bombastic beats with Trump Train themes. The earthy and ribald lyrics, so unlike anything usually associated with traditional Republican political activism, reduced the Out Now crowd to stunned silence.

The scene was a carnival. A blonde woman in a MAGA hat wearing tight Stars and Stripes leotards did gymnastic flips while waving an oversize Trump flag. Multiple black and Latino Trump-Pence sign holders teamed up with a black youth in a man bun and dressed in a Mama Cass-style muumuu shouting through a bullhorn that Trump was “The Great White Hope.” At one point, the Village People’s “YMCA” was played at full volume, with M-A-G-A inserted in place of Y-M-C-A. A brief moment of musical unity followed, when a number of the Out Now contingent began grooving to the music.

Meantime, inside the Convention Center, the people charged with overseeing the counting of mail-in ballots, Democrat and Republican alike, struggled to see what was going on. Observers had to stand behind metal gates, some as far as 25 feet away, while people at desks on the other side sorted ballots. The observers could see only the motion of hands scribbling on paper; what they were scribbling was not visible. One group of observers used small binoculars to get what they hoped would be a bird’s eye view of the ballot-counting.

Philadelphia mayor Jim Kenney’s declared that Trump needed to “put his big boy pants on [and] acknowledge the fact that he lost and congratulate the winner.” On Saturday, CNN and the New York Times announced that Biden was President-Elect, though the media, as many conservatives accurately pointed out, have no authority to certify election outcomes. Philadelphia, being a Joe Biden town, exploded in joy, with impromptu parades and the honking of car horns.

Two days later, Trump’s legal team, headed by Rudy Giuliani, alleged that as many as 350,000 votes cast in Philadelphia and 150,000 votes cast in Pittsburgh may have to be discarded because no one had observed their verification. Tens of thousands of ballots may have arrived too late to be counted under state law. And that’s not counting the dead voters, who, in time-honored Philadelphia fashion, may have cast ballots against Trump in the City of Brotherly Love.

Photo by Chris McGrath/Getty Images

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