Coalition reports issues in Pa. with 'spoiled' ballots, long lines, late polling place openings

J.D. Prose
USA TODAY Network — PA State Capitol Bureau

Updated at 7:20 p.m. 

More than 2,500 calls were made to the Pennsylvania Election Protection Coalition's voter hotline as of 4 p.m., the group said in a statement, compared to 1,340 in the June primary. 

Concerns about constables near polling places and a lack of interpreters for Spanish-speaking voters have remained throughout the day after some election observers earlier in the day mentioned issues. 

The coalition's statement said there were some voters in Berks and York counties that supposedly left waiting lines to vote when they learned translators were not available. An election observer in Reading told the USA TODAY Network Tuesday afternoon that there were just two poll workers at one polling place in a majority Spanish-speaking precinct and neither spoke Spanish.

Also, the coalition said they notified the Pennsylvania Department of State about voters in Cumberland, Dauphin and Lehigh counties feeling intimidated because constables were wearing bulletproof vests, carrying weapons and talking to voters waiting in line. 

Earlier on Tuesday, the coalition said problems encountered by Pennsylvania voters were generally the same as those seen in every election, such as late-opening polling places, and anticipated long lines, particularly in Black communities.

The coalition has nearly 2,000 volunteer poll monitors on the ground in 13 counties and 850 volunteers responding to social media posts from Pennsylvanians with questions or experiencing problems.

Carl Mudd, a member of the Pennsylvania Election Protection Coalition, stands in front of the Allegheny County Building as ballots were being dropped off Tuesday in Pittsburgh.

Besides late-opening polling places and long lines, the coalition said in an update that a high number of voters who had requested mail-in ballots were showing up to vote in-person with the ballots, which need to be voided in order for them to cast a ballot.

The coalition’s statement said, “Some poll workers are confused about the process.”

Salewa Ogunmefun, civic engagement and political manager for the Center for Popular Democracy, told the USA TODAY Network that there have been long lines reported in Philadelphia and that the coalition sent water, snacks and pizza to voters in a 2-hour long line in West Philadelphia “to try and make the voters stay in their best spirits as much as possible.”

Sporadic reports of armed people near polls from across the state have turned out to be about constables, but Ogunmefun said the coalition is still reaching out to local solicitors, county commissioners and district attorneys to make sure voters are not intimidated.

Also, there have been some reports out of York County concerning Spanish-speaking voters and whether judges of elections are allowed to let volunteers interpret for those voters, Ogunmefun said.

Daniel Altschuler, the director of civic engagement and research for Make the Road New York, is in Pennsylvania today monitoring issues in Latino communities in Reading, Allentown and Philadelphia.

In Reading, Altschuler said voters have been waiting for more than two hours at a small church because of slow-moving poll workers. "It's the check-in process that's taking forever," he said. 

The poll workers are English-only speakers in a precinct with a majority Latino populations, Altschuler said, and are having trouble looking up last names. Make the Road NY posted a video on Twitter showing volunteers handing out tacos to voters waiting in line.

One Spanish-speaking voter wanted to void her mail-in ballot and vote in-person, but even though she had the required documents she was told to go to the board of elections by workers at a different polling place, Altschuler said.

After walking for 45 minutes, the voter encountered election protection volunteers by chance and Altschuler, a Spanish speaker, returned to the polling place with her to help interpret. "All in all, this was an ordeal for this voter of well over an hour," he said.  

Carl Mudd, right, a member of the Pennsylvania Election Protection Coalition, talks with USA TODAY reporter Kim Strong in front of the Allegheny County Building where ballots were being dropped off Tuesday in Pittsburgh.

The coalition has volunteers in Allegheny, Berks, Chester, Dauphin, Delaware, Erie, Lancaster, Lehigh, Montgomery, Philadelphia, Washington, Westmoreland and York counties.

In a separate update, Jessie Littlewood, the vice president of campaigns for Common Cause, said during a 2 p.m. video conference that the group had logged 1,558 voter assistance interactions and more than 2,000 reports of misinformation or disinformation on social media, with the majority for both coming from Pennsylvania, followed by Georgia and Texas.

Littlewood said there had been 435 voter assistance incidents from Pennsylvania and 813 reports about misinformation or disinformation from the state. 

Volunteers tracking posts on social media are responding to complaints and lifting more serious ones higher up the chain for immediate action, Littlewood said. 

Most disinformation reports are stemming from Twitter and Facebook, he said, adding that Twitter "has taken down some content we've sent them today."

Social media posts have included false methods for casting ballots and photos claiming to show long lines of photos, but they are mislabeled on purpose. Voters in several states have also reported receiving robocalls telling them to stay home and stay safe, and state authorities have been notified, he said. 

Voters with questions or who see intimidation efforts should call the Pennsylvania coalition’s toll-free hotline at 866-OUR-VOTE, which is staffed by lawyers trained in election law.

J.D. Prose writes for the USA Today Network -- Pennsylvania State Capitol Bureau. He can be reached at or @jdprose on Twitter.