Commissioners get briefed on Election Day readiness

Voters may be asked for ID, but they can vote without it

By Kathleen Brady Shea, Managing Editor, The Times

James Forsythe, the county’s director of Voter Services, outlined steps his department has taken to prepare for this year’s presidential election.

At a Board of Elections meeting today, the Chester County Commissioners unanimously voted to relocate a polling place at Lincoln University, the site of a 2008 move that generated national publicity and litigation, and they expressed guarded optimism that the county is ready for the upcoming election, despite lingering voter-ID questions.

Barring an unexpected appeal from the state, a Commonwealth Court judge’s Tuesday ruling – which blocks the voter-ID requirement from taking full effect on Nov. 6 – means that voters can cast ballots whether they have photo identification or not.

Eric Gerst, a Democratic attorney who has worked on voters’ rights in the county, asked the commissioners to recommend that poll-workers refrain from asking for IDs from anyone but first-time voters; however, the commissioners questioned their authority to do that.

Solicitor Thomas Whiteman said the latest court ruling returns the county “to the status quo of the primary.” Voters may be asked for an ID, but they cannot be turned away if they don’t produce one, he said.

“Long lines are going to happen in a presidential election,” said James Forsythe, the county’s director of  Voter Services. But he said the county has been working to minimize delays and will add more optical-scanning voting machines in the more crowded precincts.

Forsythe said 20 “emergency workers” are being trained so they can respond to any problems that may arise. So far, he said the county has processed 7,518 absentee-ballot requests and has mailed out more than half of them. The last date to request one is Oct. 30, he said, adding that they must be received by 5 p.m. on Nov. 2.

Gerst told the commissioners that Forsythe and his staff had been responsive to his repeated questions and concerns.  “He has done everything he can to make it fair and to make it well-organized and efficient,” said Gerst.

Unlike the previous Lincoln University relocation decision, which sparked controversy by cramming voters into a small community center rather than the university gymnasium, today’s change was greeted favorably. Voting will take place about 75 yards away at the university’s International Cultural Center, which has much better handicapped access, officials said.

Commissioner Ryan Costello said he wanted to thank all of the employees and volunteers who make exercising democracy possible, especially on Election Day.  “It’s a long day,” he said. “We owe them all a debt of gratitude.”


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