During Tuesday’s primary, various candidates in Kensington alleged that their opponents were bribing voters, campaigning inside polling places, and, in one instance, distributing anonymous fliers that claimed one candidate was gay — and those were just the complaints made to a reporter over a few hours time. An assistant district attorney showed up at Stetson Middle School in Kensington to respond to reports that campaign workers were accompanying voters into voting booths. After observing a raucous scene that involved dozens of different political supporters in colorful campaign T-shirts, his walkie-talkie crackled and he departed — there had been another report of electioneering at the Bayard Taylor School, on the other side of the neighborhood. In theory, there are poll watchers who can respond to such Election Day complaints. Each candidate is entitled to a certain number of poll-watcher certificates, issued by the City Commissioners office, entitling that person to enter and observe activity at any polling place.
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But according to Pennsylvania’s election codes, all poll watchers must be affiliated with a specific party or candidate. That means non-partisan entities — like reporters and the government watchdog Committee of Seventy — are legally barred from directly monitoring elections.
Ellen Kaplan, vice president of the Committee of Seventy, says her group has been lobbying to change the law for years. Currently, that group’s Election Day volunteers are only allowed to stand near the front of polling places.
“It’s one of the many ways that Pennsylvania’s election laws are less than ideal,” Kaplan says. She pointed to one instance in which a delegation of Russian election monitors were given special permission by the city to monitor the last presidential election.