Between SEPTA and Trump, voting in Philadelphia may be tougher than ever.
To say the 2016 election has been an experience would be an understatement. No, 2016 has been a gauntlet of peril, scandals, and horror. Despite all of this, voters in Philadelphia County will have to face a bigger peril than most in this nation.
On Sunday, October 16th, the SEPTA Transit Workers Union, TWU 234, voted to authorize a strike that would start on November 1st. The strike was suggested and put up for a vote by Union President Willie Brown, who I will be referring to as “Little” Willie Brown. The union plans to strike to have lower health care costs, but the fact of the matter is that they strike, or at least threaten to do so, every 2 years because they only sign 2 year contracts. In the past, they’ve threatened to strike during the Phillies World Series in 2008, only to relent and strike a few months later in 2009.
Republican Presidential Nominee Donald Trump has stated time and time again that if he loses this election its because its “rigged” and at one point alluded to voter fraud in Philadelphia as a possibility. Additionally, the Philadelphia suburbs from August through early October were a hotbed for Trump supporters to try and get more support. The reasoning? White suburban voters didn’t want to vote for Hillary Clinton, and since Philadelphia was already set for Clinton and Pennsylvania is otherwise a fairly heavy Republican state, getting the suburbs and their undecided voters would be the way to clinch the election.
In short: The Philadelphia area could determine who wins the election.
With that taken into account, the fact that “Little” Willie Brown has authorized a strike that could impact the election means that he could, in fact, help Donald Trump win the election.
Its a hell of an accusation to make, and not one I make likely. Could the head of the most notorious Transit Workers Union in America wind up winning the election for the most notorious candidate for President in the last 50 years? Did you read the part about how Philadelphia could change the entire state and the suburbs are key?
First, lets look at the week when the strike would happen: On Tuesday, November 1st, commuters in Philadelphia and the suburbs could find themselves without a ride to work if they rely on SEPTA. People who take Regional Rail will be welcomed to crowded train cars on an already overworked system recovering from the summer rail car shortage, and drivers will see more cars than usual on the road from people driving to work. To compound things, more people who be taking Uber and Lyft, meaning even more cars, and all the cabs will be full.
To make matters worse, for those who make the least, the working poor, the hourly workers, and frankly, the most likely to vote Democrat (in a city with 80% Democratic Registration, that’s likely), will need to start making plans on how to get to and from work. In some cases, they may need to start shifting hours to the following week to help make up the time they need for their bills. That means working on election day.
If the strike happens into Election Day, we’re going to see something drastic: People forced to choose between voting and going to work. While most states have laws that allow people to take time off work to vote and the employer is required to pay them, Pennsylvania does not have any laws like this. That means the people making the least, that people with families that they are alone responsible for, that people who are just trying to get by, will need to decide: Their vote or their lives.
Yet, somehow, this entire situation gets worse.
The Republican Presidential Candidate, Donald Trump, stated that he wants “poll watchers”. To that end, and what can only be called bad timing, the Pennsylvania Republican Party has sues the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania to do just that. The Pennsylvania GOP has won a case that allows their poll watchers to cross county lines. Considering the amount of bad press Philadelphia has gotten in the last 10 years for things such as voter fraud and voter intimidation, and the fact that their parties nominee has stated time and time again that cities like Philadelphia are “ripe with fraud”(not a direct quote), anyone who can add two and two together can see that this means people from the suburbs are going to come to Philadelphia to “watch the polls”.
If this sounds bad and as Kosher as a ham and cheese sandwich, then you’re right.
In 1981, fresh off a massive win by Ronald Reagan into the presidency, the New Jersey GOP decided to focus all their energies into the Governor’s Race of that year. This included their own “poll watchers” and “warning” signs spearheaded by the Ballot Security Task Force. Their poll watchers were armed off-duty police officers and massive signs, 20” x 30”, complete with massive red text stating that voter fraud is a crime and that anyone committing the act would be arrested! These tactics were used in Democratic strongholds like Camden, NJ. The following year the Democratic Party sued and, as a result, the Republican Party has been banned from any activity remotely like this until December 31, 2017.
The door opened by the Pennsylvania GOP is damning to say the least. Not only have they just opened the possibility of over-zealous Trump supporters flooding Philadelphia on election day in places like North Philadelphia, South West Philadelphia, Fishtown, and more “accidentally” intimidating voters and skewing the election, they also opened themselves to lawsuits and, if nothing else but bad for the party, the fact that anyone caught violating that court order means its extended automatically another 8 years, times the national GOP doesn’t have.
While the two scary looking guys at that one voting place were bad enough, we may see our city overrun with likewise people in Trump shirts and, if history is any indicator, armed.
Yet these two pieces, the SEPTA Strike and the GOP Strong-arming go hand-and-hand into a possible Trump victory.
How? The Far Northeast and the Philadelphia Suburbs.
The Far Northeast is the lone Republican Stronghold in Philadelphia, reliably Red for the area, tends to be reliably Anti-Union. Not only that, the need to take SEPTA to or from work is not as strong as the rest of the city, Center City and some surrounding areas aside. They’re able to work to their polling places easily, and to add to this, the fact that two things I mentioned, from the anti-union sentiment that the strike would only raise and the fear from their candidate that there is rampant voter fraud, it could motivate them to make up for all those Democratic voters not wanting to get out.
To add to this, the Philadelphia Suburbs will not be that effected by the strike itself, save the people who commute in, and again those same issues, concerns, and fears may help drive them to vote Trump as well.
This election day, Philadelphian’s will have to hope there is no strike so they can not only get to work but also get home so they can vote. But even then they may have to navigate some angry looking people they’ve never seen before looking at them and making sure they’re not up to anything. We may have to deal with our city virtually in gridlock as people try and get to work, reports of voter intimidation will come in, and that terrible feeling of doom that we’re sure to all feel that we may not see the orderly election we want.
Why? All because “Little” Willie Brown wants to strike, because the Pennsylvania GOP has sued to have their own “poll watchers” cross county lines, we’re possibly going to see the 20 Electoral Votes from Pennsylvania go for Trump.
If there’s anything I would call on, to try and bring some hope to all of this, it is these three things:
- Willie Brown, have your strike authorization threat when you want it, but move the actual date of the threat until the day AFTER the election. With the SEPTA train car shortage you still have all of your leverage and the city will not despise you or TWU 234 in the process.
- If there is a strike, I call on Mayor Jim Kenney to do whatever is possible, and even whatever is legal, to make sure that SEPTA is running on Election Day.
- The Pennsylvania GOP MUST talk to their poll watchers and to anyone who plans on doing poll watching to be clear, as clear crystal, that no one should come close to anything that may be considered “voter intimidation”, and the Philadelphia GOP should be just as clear as well.