Voter Suppression: Philadelphia

Republicans have tried, and failed, to move polling places out of minority neighborhoods. This is happenning generally in neighborhoods that have about a 10% Republican voter registration population, and is akin to Gerrymandering.

So far they have been rebuffed, because of the timing being so close to the election, but they are appealing.

Article archived here.Posted on Thu, Oct. 21, 2004

GOP bid for poll shifts rejected

The city commissioners said petitions came too late. Republicans faulted sites in bars and homes.

By Michael Currie Schaffer

Inquirer Staff Writer

At their final preelection meeting to determine polling-place locations, Philadelphia’s city commissioners yesterday refused a last-minute Republican effort to move 63 polling places, most in heavily minority neighborhoods.

The commissioners – two Democrats and a Republican – ruled that the GOP petitions were turned in too late to be considered at yesterday’s meeting. The petitions were delivered late Friday, and ordinarily, motions to relocate polls must be publicly posted for five days before a hearing.

Mark Pfeifle, a spokesman for the state Republican Party, said it was unlikely that the decision would be appealed to Common Pleas Court.

But Pfeifle reiterated Republican criticisms of the polling places in question, many of them in bars, private homes or vacant buildings.

“How are people supposed to vote in these areas?” he asked.

Democrats called the effort racially motivated, saying that Philadelphia’s tradition of neighborhood polling places had led to polls’ being located in awkward spots all over town, not just in the minority neighborhoods that predominated in the Republican challenge. Partisans of Democratic nominee John Kerry voiced concern that a late change could confuse voters in affected neighborhoods, effectively suppressing minority turnout.

Also yesterday, the commissioners unanimously approved a request by Democrats at the University of Pennsylvania to move the school’s polling places from one building to buildings around the campus. The group argued that the relocation would ease voting by allowing students to vote closer to where they live.

“We think it will really help boost turnout,” said Rich Eisenberg of the Penn College Democrats.

Pfeifle said the ruling on the Penn effort showed bias. He called the GOP petitions “absolutely” as qualified as those of the College Democrats.

But Bob Lee, Philadelphia’s voter-registration administrator, said the students’ four petitions had been filed a week earlier than the Republicans’ 63 petitions and had been posted in keeping with elections rules.

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