County brac­ing for big turnout

With Elec­tion Day ap­proach­ing, reg­is­tra­tion num­bers show Dems gain­ing ground, but GOP still tops

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - FRONT PAGE - By Michael P. Rel­la­han mrel­la­han@21st-cen­tu­ry­ @Ch­escoCourtNews on Twit­ter

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.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.