Black voting rights activists in western Pennsylvania have assembled a support team to address instances of voter intimidation at the polls on Tuesday, though it's unclear if those worries will be realized.
“I don't feel any overwhelming sense that these things may arise,” said Dewitt Walton, an Allegheny County Councilor and coordinator for PA Black Votes Matter. Walton said there were already some potential red flags about possible Election Day intimidation, particularly in Greene and Cambria counties. But he didn't want to discuss specifics.
“There are areas that raise some internal concern that I won’t identify at this particular juncture. However, we want to be positioned that if there are reports of untoward [incidents], we’ll be ready.”
Walton said voter intimidation is nothing new for the Black community, but activists will be prepared in case something happens during this particularly divisive election year.
Initimidation tactics “have been part of our concerns for decades,” he said. “Voter suppression has been a part of the playbook in one shape, form or manner for a number of years.”
Intimidation is any activity that threatens, harasses or intimidates voters and can include shouting, or interfering with access to polling places, among other behavior.
In addition to Cambria and Greene, the coalition will be working primarily Allegheny, Beaver, Erie, Fayette, Lawrence, Mercer and Washington counties. PA Black Votes Matter is coordinating with lawyers, and sheriff’s departments in those counties.
“We will use the court system, we will use every resource at our disposal to ensure that every voice is heard and every vote is counted,” Walton said. But he acknowledged that it’s impossible to have representatives at every polling place in the region. “We can only be reactive. It would be highly favorable if we could be as proactive as we’d like to be.”
Activists will also be keeping close watch over western Pennsylvania counties – such as Beaver – that have said they won’t start counting mail-in ballots until Nov. 4.
“We are going to pay particular attention to all of those efforts to ensure that no nefarious activity is engaged in,” Walton said.
Polls are open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. statewide. Voters who experience or witness intimidation can call the state hotline at 877-868-3772 for help.