County bracing for big turnout
With Election Day approaching, registration numbers show Dems gaining ground, but GOP still tops
WEST GOSHEN >> Kara Rahn has heard the stories about the presidential election of 2008 in Chester County.
How more than 255,000 voters swarmed the county’s 226 polling places, some just a tiny room with only a few polling booths. How some voters stood in line well past the 8 p.m. poll closing time, some outdoors in the rain, just to cast a ballot in that historic election. And how in the end almost 80 percent of the county’s voters participated and helped elect the nation’s first black president.
And taking those stories into account, Rahn, who took over as director of the county’s Office of Voters Services in January, has spent the
past eight-plus months getting ready for a presidential election that may resemble that which took place eight years ago. With the key word being “prepared.”
“We are assuming that things will be similar to what happened in 2008,” Rahn said in an interview in her office at the county’s Government Services Center. “We are more than ready. The key for us in Chester County is flexibility. I think we will be able to accommodate the ebb and flow of Election Day turnout.”
The number of registered voters in Chester County ahead of the Nov. 8 election that pits Democrat Hillary Clinton against Republican Donald Trump, as well as two third-party candidates, has never been higher in the county’s history. As of Tuesday, Rahn’s records show that 354,723 county residents had registered to vote, up from 325,728 in 2008 and 337,821 in 2012.
That mirrors, not surprisingly, the county’s explosion in population. In 2000, there were 433,501 people living here. Estimates now show a population of 515,939.
Of those voters, Republican registrations still lead the way. In contrast to the neighboring counties of Delaware and Montgomery, the GOP is still the dominant political party in terms of numbers, with 155,519 registrants. By comparison, there are 137,166 registered Democrats, and 92,038 other party voters, everything from the Libertarians and Greens, who have candidates on this year’s ballot, to the lesser Jedi and Good Neighbor parties.
Since 2008, when Barack Obama faced off against Republican
Sen. John McCain, the county’s Democratic rolls have increased at a greater clip than its Republican with Democrats adding 12,526 registered voters to the GOP’s 5,401. The GOP margin of 18,353 is the slimmest in the county’s recent history.
The deadline for registering to vote in the coming election was Oct. 11, and on that date Rahn estimated that her office had more almost 5,000 applications to process. Her staff of 21 full and part-time employees spent seven days a week, 12 hours a day, making sure they were tallied.
In addition, the office has
sent out 12,471 absentee ballots to civilian and non-civilian voters, with 5,545 going to registered Republicans and 5,015 going to Democrats. The last day to request such a ballot is Nov. 1, and the last day to return the ballot Nov. 4.
Eyes across the country from political observers will be on the county as votes are cast on Nov. 8, as it has been identified as a crucial county for both the Clinton and Trump campaigns. A vote-rich county in a battleground swing state, the county was recently profiled in Politico as “ground zero,” and has been the subject of profiles in the New York Times and other publications.
Rahn has been making sure that the Election Day staff of polling workers, including Judges of Elections (JOEs, in the office’s parlance), majority and minority inspectors and their staffs are ready to make the voting experience as uncomplicated and time consuming as possible. Polling places that have been “bottlenecks” in the past are on notice that if they are having trouble getting voters in and out in a timely fashion, extra staff members will be available from nearby precincts to help out, she said. Each precinct will have extra makeshift “privacy booths” for voters if the normal booths begin to fill up.
In recent days, Trump has begun warning of a “rigged election” in Pennsylvania and other locations.
Trump’s supporters appear to be taking his grievances seriously. Only about one-third of Republicans said they have a great deal or quite a bit of confidence
that votes on Election Day will be counted fairly, according to poll from the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.
During a campaign event Tuesday with Trump’s running mate, Mike Pence, a voter said she was deeply concerned about voter fraud and pledged to be “ready for a revolution” if Clinton wins.
Pence waved away the woman’s rallying cry, saying, “Don’t say that.” And on Sunday, in an interview with NBC’s “Meet The Press,” he said the campaign will “accept the will of the American people, you bet.”
Rahn did not address those concerns specifically, but said she was confident the 2,100 poll workers she hopes to have on hand Election Day will be able to sort through problems that may arise.
Kathi Cozzone, however, the vice chairwoman of the county commissioners and a member of the county’s Board of Elections, rejected Trump’s claims of a “rigged” voting process.
“The people who work in our precincts are 100 percent dedicated to what they do,” she said Tuesday. “They work very hard to make sure that the rules are followed and to make sure that the election in Chester County is done right.
“This is a ludicrous charge, and it is very frustrating for me as a member of the Board of Elections to hear someone talk about our voting system that way,” Cozzone said. “It is absolutely false.”
To contact staff writer Michael P. Rellahan call 610-696-1544.