PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – A coalition of labor, voting rights and social justice groups called on Allegheny County election officials to maximize voter participation in November.
Led by a group called “All Voting is Local,” the organizations said the county needs an emergency election plan.READ MORE: PennDOT Asking For Public Input Ahead Of Bridge Work In Westmoreland County
Concerns about voter suppression — whether intentional or not — led a coalition to call on Allegheny County officials to make sure every neighborhood polling place is open and drop boxes are in place for those who don’t trust the U.S. Postal Service.
“We want to see that Allegheny County has a plan for the November 3rd general election. We are less than two months away from arguably the most important election of our lifetime,” Allegheny County councilwoman Bethany Hallam told KDKA political editor Jon Delano on Wednesday.
Hallam, a member of the three-person elections board with County Executive Rich Fitzgerald and County Councilman Sam DeMarco, says the board has not met since June.
“It’s so important that local officials act now, and act boldly in accordance with the recommendations that will be late out here today,” said Sam Williamson, president of 32BJ Service Employees Union, at a press conference Wednesday afternoon.
Recommendations include opening all neighborhood polls. That requires 6,500 county poll workers, but over 750 poll workers have declined to work this election.
The good news is that many others have volunteered, like Jessica O’Keefe of Bethel Park.READ MORE: Man Being Charged After Stabbing His Boss During A Meeting
“This is a scary time for people who are older or people with pre-existing conditions to work the polls, and I am young, I am healthy, and I felt the need to step up in that moment,” says O’Keefe.
Voting advocates also want satellite county offices and many drop boxes so voters can drop off mail-in ballots without going downtown.
“I think we should have a drop box in each municipality throughout Allegheny County,” says Hallam.
But right now, the Trump campaign is challenging that idea in court.
“American democracy is on the ballot. And this house is on fire, and I almost can’t believe I have to ask, will Allegheny County let it burn?” asks Dr. Jennie Sweet-Cushman at Chatham University.
County officials say there is an election plan on its way, but the details are still being worked out.
The next Allegheny County Elections Board meeting is set for September 17th.MORE NEWS: Pennsylvania Ranked In Top 10 Most Generous States
Here is the full statement from Chet Harhut, Deputy Manager of the Elections Division:
“Allegheny County’s Elections Division was a model for the state during the June primary. We had the highest number of mail-in ballots and the highest percentage turnout. We were the only county to proactively mail out ballot applications to increase voter accessibility. We were able to report out results on Election Day and completed our canvassing of all mail-in and in-person voting by the following day. We received accolades from state and federal officials because we did it better than anyone else.
“None of that happens without allowing our staff the opportunity to do their work and preparation. Since the completion of the process for the June primary, the Elections Division has been working to update processes, verify polling places, secure the needed number of poll workers, set up trainings, and do all of the other things necessary to run a presidential election.
“We’ve already confirmed over 6,500 poll workers, or 95% of the number needed to staff the 1,300 plus polling places. And we are building a bench to fill in for workers who cannot or will not work in November. We have also processed over 204,000 mail-in and absentee ballot applications to date.
“We are going through this thoughtful, detailed and careful process because we want to ensure that every single vote cast is counted. The number one priority in these efforts is the integrity of the election system. We don’t want anything done by this division to result in any vote being challenged or not counted. We hope that voters and advocacy organizations from across the county share that goal.
Once our due diligence is complete, plans will be provided to the Board of Elections. As noted on the division’s website, the date of the next meeting is Thursday, September 17 at 2 PM.”