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Pittsburgh Voters Share Concerns About Polling Locations, Paper Ballots And Recent Unrest

Despite consolidated polling locations, the coronavirus pandemic, and protests across the city, voters showed up in person to cast their primary ballots in Pittsburgh Tuesday.

At Rodef Shalom in Shadyside, a steady stream of voters entered throughout the morning, each masked and many wearing gloves. Dr. Eleanor Shimkin-Sorock, who was campaigning for Jerry Dickinson, said the location seemed empty to her.

Credit Katie Blackley / 90.5 WESA
Dr. Eleanor Shimkin-Sorock, who was out campaigning for Jerry Dickinson, said she heard some concerns about the relocated polling places, but her neighbors were able to know of the change through a postcard.

“I hope the missing people voted by mail,” Shimkin-Sorock said.

She said a few voters expressed frustration that they were unable to vote at their usual location. Allegheny County reduced polling places from 1,323 to fewer than 300 for the delayed Pennsylvania primary due to the pandemic.

Sheila Ali said she discovered the change yesterday (she usually votes at Liberty Elementary School), and while she was able to ride her bike to the Rodef Shalom location, she imagines it might be a challenge for some people with mobility or transportation challenges. She was also confused about the switch to paper ballots, citing security concerns.

“It seems very archaic,” Ali said. “I don’t understand why we’re doing paper.”

Polls opened Tuesday at 7 a.m. and will close at 8 p.m. Voters will decide races for the U.S. Congress, state House, several state executive roles, as well as local representation.

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Campaign workers stand outside Ebenezer Baptist Church in Pittsburgh's Hill District on the day of the Pennsylvania primary, June 2, 2020.

Ebenezer Baptist Church in the Hill District encompasses Pittsburgh Wards 1, 2 and 3, which include much of the Hill District, Downtown, Uptown, and the Strip District. 

Morgan Moody usually votes at Epiphany Catholic Church, a little under a mile from Ebenezer. She said she, too, wasn’t aware of the change until she and her husband went to Epiphany and saw the signs about the change of venue. 

“It was just more chaotic than we’re used to because it was a different polling place [and] there’s multiple wards in one building,” Moody. “It’s a small area and trying to maintain social distancing. I mean, they’re doing the best they can, but those were the challenges.”

Moody chose to vote in person because she always does, she said, but this primary was particularly significant.

Credit Katie Blackley / 90.5 WESA
A voter walks out of Ebenezer Baptist Church in the Hill District, where three Pittsburgh wards were consolidated to this polling location.

“It’s really for us to vote in person given the time in our country racially,” Moody said. “And as a black woman, to be present and vote in person.”

Several voters said the recent demonstrations in Pittsburgh were on their minds as they cast their ballots. The city, as well as much of the country, has seen rallies and marches nearly every day since Saturday. Participants have protested police brutality after the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis while in police custody on May 25.

Raymond Morrison echoed the sentiment, saying the protests, as well as the pandemic, were “illuminating some of the systemic problems we’ve had,” but he felt like “something positive’s going to come out of it.”

Morrison usually votes at the firehouse on Forbes Avenue in Uptown, and also noticed the paper ballots, but for a different reason than other voters.

“The fact that it’s paper, it can’t be--unless it’s lost--it’ll be counted,” Morrison said. “So that...made me feel good.”

Credit Katie Blackley / 90.5 WESA
Jala Rucker, a Manchester resident, has been volunteering with elections since 2008. She said the experience has overall been smooth today, but did have concerns about voters having to present identification at the polls. She was stationed outside with a group of volunteers passing out masks, hand sanitizer and water bottles.

On Pittsburgh’s North Side at Manchester K-8, volunteers stood outside with wipes, masks and water for voters. At the time WESA was there, a steady stream entered the building, but Manchester resident Jala Rucker, who was also volunteering at the site, said she worried about social distancing and getting people in and out when there was an influx of voters in the afternoon.

Credit Katie Blackley / 90.5 WESA
The polling location at Manchester K-8 school in the city's Manchester neighborhood. The location was where voters from wards 21 and 22 (which include Manchester, Chateau, Allegheny West, Allegheny Center, the North Shore and part of California-Kirkbride) were asked to cast their ballots.

When Rucker went to vote Tuesday morning, she was asked for her identification card, which is required by Allegheny County. Still, she said she votes here every election and found it strange that people would be asked, due to the pandemic and the subsequent temporary closure of places like PennDOT, where IDs are issued.

“What if I didn’t have my ID? What if it was expired or maybe I lost it?” Rucker said. 

Pennsylvania saw a surge in mail-in ballot requests this year, with more than 1.8 million voters applying. Due to an executive order issued by Gov. Tom Wolf this week, Allegheny County residents are still able to mail in their ballots, as long as they are postmarked by Tuesday, June. 2.