On Election Day, Kensington resident Sheila Rodríguez will walk across the street from her house to Lewis Elkin Elementary School to vote for former Vice President Joe Biden.
Although some Kensington residents along Allegheny Avenue said they already voted by mail, which became more accessible this year due to the coronavirus pandemic, Rodríguez is waiting until Nov. 3 because she doesn’t trust mail-in voting.
Rodríguez said she’s not concerned about voting in person during the pandemic as long as the voters at polling places take care of themselves.
“It’s going to be more safe if you wear a mask, wash your hands, and just keep the social distance,” she added.
Rodríguez moved to Philadelphia from Puerto Rico seven years ago, and said she is voting because her neighborhood needs change, specifically in reducing the drugs and violence in the area.
In its current state, Rodríguez considers leaving Kensington, but at the same time, she doesn’t want to move since she lives near some family members, and appreciates how close she is to public transportation and the local hospitals, parks, schools, and supermarkets. And as a single mom, she said working two jobs to afford to move somewhere else isn’t possible, especially without access to more opportunities.
“If you get a job and then you get some money, [programs like Medicaid and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)] think that you can afford everything for your house,” Rodríguez said. “Like pay rent, bills, food shopping . . . . And then you don’t have the opportunity to get out of here because you don’t make enough money.”
Making sure that all people with low incomes can access those government programs doesn’t seem to be a concern for Biden or other candidates on the ballot, she added.
Election Day polling places
When the coronavirus pandemic hit the city in March, state legislators moved the primary election from April 28 to June 2. And due to pandemic-related location and staffing issues, the city consolidated polling places from more than 830 to 188 locations, Billy Penn reported in May.
“A lot of people didn’t know exactly where polling locations were going to be. And that also meant like longer lines, less staff,” said Kat Engleman, referring to the primary election.
Engleman is a Norris Square resident and civic engagement coordinator for Youth United for Change (YUC). The Kensington-based organization trains young people to organize for better conditions in their schools and communities. Engleman runs YUC’s work on voter registration, voter education, and voter turnout initiatives.
According to a July 2020 report from the Voting Rights Lab, the consolidation and reduction of polling places across the country deeply affected the 2020 primary elections. Additionally, research shows that polling place consolidation, which has happened over the last few years in some states, reduces voter turnout among voters of color, infrequent voters, and voters without vehicle access.
The polling place situation in Philadelphia has mostly, but not completely, improved for voters this time around. Per Billy Penn, there will be 718 polling places for the 2020 general election, which is almost four times more than were available for the primary election this past June.
Engleman is advising voters to double check their polling place location a week before the election, and make a plan to vote depending on how much time you have to wait in line. The most popular times to vote are in the morning before work, during lunch hours, and after work, Engleman said.
The polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. in Philadelphia. If you’re in line by 8 p.m., you’re legally allowed to stay in line until you can vote.
And when it comes to the pandemic, Engleman encourages everyone to practice safety measures. According to local news outlet Billy Penn, the city’s COVID-19 safety plan for Election Day includes, but is not limited to, the following:
- Voters are strongly encouraged to wear masks. Poll workers and poll watchers are required to wear masks. Poll workers who can’t wear a mask are required to wear a face shield.
- Poll workers will give out one-single glove for voters to use to sign the poll book and vote.
- Requiring at least 6 feet of social distancing.
- Hand sanitizer at each polling place.
You can find your polling place for the 2020 general election here.
Additional voting resources
If you need more information or help, below is a list of resources available to voters in the Kensington area.
- Contact Kat Engleman with any voting questions at firstname.lastname@example.org or 856-812-4244. YUC is also posting voting information on their website, Twitter, and Instagram.
- Need quick answers about voting sent right to your phone? Text EQUALINFO to 73224 to ask any question about voting access, deadlines, locations and more.
- Need information about the ballot questions and the candidates on the ballot? Read Billy Penn’s procrastinator’s guide to the 2020 general election, in English and Spanish.
- Call Election Protection Pennsylvania’s voter information hotlines
- 866-OUR-VOTE (866-687-8683) for English
- 888-VE-Y-VOTA (888-839-8682) for Spanish
- 888-API-VOTE (888-274-8683) for Mandarin, Cantonese, Korean, Vietnamese, Tagalog, Urdu, Hindi, and Bengali
- Call the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office for voter complaints at 215-686-9641.
- If you’re voting by mail, read about the satellite election offices near Kensington, in English and Spanish. The election offices aren’t polling places. You can drop off your completed mail-in or absentee ballot at any of the locations, no matter where you live, until Nov. 3 at 8 p.m.
- If you’d like to put your mail-in ballot in one of the city’s 24/7 drop boxes, the closest one to Kensington is at Shissler Recreation Center in Fishtown at 1800 Blair St. The city has a map here.
Editors: Claire Wolters, Siani Colón / Designer: Henry Savage
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