Republicans tried to limit this ballot box in Pennsylvania. Meet the voters who use it.

Republicans tried to limit this ballot box in Pennsylvania. Meet the voters who use it.


ALLENTOWN, Pa. – In the political battleground of Lehigh County, a legal group associated with Donald Trump is suing to shorten the hours of the only 24-hour ballot box, claiming someone could fill it with fake votes. Vigilantes pledged online to protect him. Election officials received anonymous letters: “STOP THE ELECTION FRAUD”.

But on this November evening, there are no civic guards or sneaky fraudsters at the Lehigh Government Center ballot box, just a janitor wiping the glass windows. Leaves are bouncing on the sidewalk. The husky sniffs the grass.

“The rhetoric flying around doesn’t match the reality,” said Lehigh County Board of Commissioners Chairman Geoff Brace, a registered Democrat. Investigations across the country found no evidence of voter fraud that could have affected the election, and the same is true here. “It’s just a convenience for people,” said Timothy Benyo, director of local elections, a registered Republican. “It’s not a scam factory.”

Ballot boxes were not always controversial. When the Republican-controlled Legislature authorized mail-in voting in 2019, the top Republican in the Pennsylvania Senate called it “the most significant modernization of our election code in decades.” Nonstop voting skyrocketed during coronavirus pandemic, especially among Democrats, as Americans sought to avoid crowded polls.

However, ahead of the 2020 election, President Donald Trump and right-wing activists argued without evidence that early voting is fraught with fraud, and Republican lawmakers in Pennsylvania have pushed to tighten the rules. Five drop boxes are now open in Lehigh County. Signs at the 24-hour polling station at the Government Center warn that casting anyone else’s ballot without special permission is illegal.

In a lawsuit dismissed by a district judge last month, the American Legal Foundation, led by Trump senior adviser Stephen Miller and former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, cited a district attorney’s investigation that found 288 people had rejected more than one ballot ahead of the U.S. election. November 2021

Most offenders slipped to two, and none carried more than six. Authorities have declined to press any charges. “There is no dreaded ‘ballot harvesting’ with trucks full of surplus ballots,” said Benyo, the election official. “These are ordinary people.”

For eight hours over two evenings this week, The Washington Post watched people vote in this historically moderate part of Pennsylvania framed by the ridges of the Appalachian Mountains. They were Democrats, Republicans and Independents. Some had cards dealt. No one wanted to deal with the hassle of queuing on election day. Here are five of their stories.

Deborah White arrived with her husband of four decades, Lawrence, as the sun dipped over the autumn leaves. She retired from her admissions job at Lehigh University and wasn’t tied to a strict schedule. She wanted to be here, in her time, on principle. “I’m a 68-year-old African-American woman,” she said. “There was a time when we could not vote. I thought, ‘Oh my God. I have to do this.’”

During the last election, White, a Democrat, used the box because she was convenient and didn’t want to get covid. Now she was here to exercise her right which she felt was under attack. Efforts to reduce early voting have plagued her. Closing the place at night, she thought, would only block voters who worked all day. “It’s unfair,” she said, “and it’s controlling. They don’t want us to do what we need to do.”

Carter Prokesch, a 23-year-old research and development engineer, had no plans to vote at all. Then his father urged him to register to vote by mail and make his voice heard. So after work, the self-proclaimed “moderate conservative” drove to the Government Center.

He had a split ticket: a vote for Mehmet Oz, the Republican candidate for Senate, and a vote for Josh Shapiro, the Democratic candidate for governor. “Because not all of Shapiro’s ads were about attacking people,” Prokesch said.

Republican candidate for governor, Doug Mastriano, chartered buses for January 62021, a rally that erupted into rebellion and promised a ban abortion without exception, suggesting that the women subjected to the procedure should be charged with murder. He campaigned at events promoting anti-Semitic conspiracy theories.

Prokeš was sick of all the fights. He wanted to be a better Christian and stand with people who treat others with respect. He regretted voting for Trump, he said, after watching the former president hurl so many insults. Prokesch and his father were registered Republicans. His mother and twin sister were Democrats. “We don’t talk about politics,” he said.

When Lax Rode voted in the 2020 election, the 38-year-old therapist had to wait in line behind 15 people. Maybe 20. It didn’t take long, but the voting process was a chore compared to walking to the drop box on a balmy evening. There are practically no other people in sight. They slide their ballot into the slot. Done.

“I saved time,” he said, grinning, “and time is money in this capitalist country, right?” Rode, who considers himself independent and prefers to keep his political decisions private, moved to the United States from India in 2008. years. He became a naturalized citizen about four years ago and admires how politics has changed since then.

He has liberal and conservative clients. The gap between them had never seemed wider. He encourages people to stick to the facts. “In India we didn’t have postal ballots,” said Rode. “You would have to go in person. This is one of the things I love here. It makes our lives more enjoyable.”

Mark Stein, 60, figured downtown Allentown would be quieter on weeknights. He was right. The history teacher at Muhlenberg College found a parking spot and voted within minutes. Stein enjoyed the energy of the traditional polls in this swing district, saying he’s “never missed an election,” but worries about the tension leading up to the midterms.

Stein, a Democrat, has heard of armed groups promising to “surveillance” polling places, including drop boxes. He read that the gunman who attacked the husband of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) with a hammer attacked liberals, blacks and Jews in blog posts.

He thought of the Republican gubernatorial candidate, Mastrian, who criticized his opponent Shapiro for sending his children to a Jewish day school. (Mastriano said he criticized the school for being “expensive” and “elitist” and not for any religious reason.) “As an American Jew,” Stein said, “I see the safe space being removed.”

Janice Altieri, 58, is a Democrat. Her husband Joe, 60, is a Republican. They didn’t want to talk to anyone about it. “A lot of people here are trying to get you to change your vote,” said Janice, the school librarian. “They give you pamphlets,” said Joe, the engineer. “Which are funny!” Janice said. “This way, you don’t have to deal with all that.”

They could have walked five minutes to the polling station next to their house, but the couple preferred the 10-minute drive to the drop box. Activists in Lehigh County have been known to ambush voters on Election Day. The pamphlets would probably be extra funny this year, Janice said, considering all the conspiracy theories about election fraud.

The pair agreed that the 2020 election was not stolen. Early voting was safe. “I voted straight Democrat,” Janice said, turning to Joe. “I didn’t even ask you! I don’t even know if our voices match.”

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