Peaceful day demonstrations turned violent Wednesday night in a historical Black business corridor in Philadelphia, two days after police killed a Black man in the largest city in the state of Pennsylvania. Scattered amongst signs urging people to vote, various posters expressed support either for African Americans or for the police as police helicopters circled the skies.
“Last night Philadelphia was torn up by Biden-supporting radicals … Biden stands with the rioters. And I stand with the heroes of law enforcement,” President Donald Trump said at a rally in Wisconsin.
Democratic nominee Joe Biden, however, was quick to condemn the looting. “I think to be able to protest is totally legitimate, totally reasonable. But there’s no excuse for the looting,” he said in Delaware.
Pennsylvania is most likely to the tipping factor for the president: “By the way, we win Pennsylvania, we win the whole thing. Big deal, right,” he said in Allentown, Pennsylvania on Monday. In keen awareness of the state’s importance, the Democrats have inundated Pennsylvania with key speakers and the most television ad spending per voter.
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Even more importantly, campaigns are looking at turning out new voters in their strongholds. More than 3.5 million eligible voters in Pennsylvania didn’t send in a 2016 ballot, and Trump won the state by 44,292 votes.
The death of a Black man in Philadelphia — the latest in a string of similar incidents this year — comes as Pennsylvanians return a record number of early ballots: two million of the three million ballots sent to them. With less than a week to go till Election Day, US citizens have submitted more than half of the total ballots in 2016 — 74 million.
“This is not going to be a normal election in any way, shape, or form. We’re letting voters know we are in this together,” said Pennsylvania Democratic Party’s executive director Jason Henry. Adding to the disruptions, since the pandemic, Pennsylvania has had the highest number of counties in the top 20 per cent nationally for increased unemployment rates and Covid-19 deaths per capita, a Wall Street Journal analysis found. This week, national Covid-19 case counts have reached an average of 70,000 daily, the highest on record so far.
“How will these events affect the elections? This is difficult to predict and I don’t know,” said Philadelphia protestor Duncan Grumko, who was arrested for demonstrating on Tuesday. Grumko said he is voting for Biden, and more people may be motivated to vote given the tensions. But “this is not only a Democrat or Republican issue. President Biden will not do enough to address racial, economic, and other issues in Philly. We’ll keep fighting even if Biden is elected”, he said.
With unprecedented mail-in ballots, many anticipate a pushed back release of the results. Many pivotal states, like Pennsylvania, will begin processing these tens of millions of ballots only on Tuesday. “Pennsylvanians have been really embracing (early voting) … By Friday, the overwhelming majority of ballots will be counted in Pennsylvania,” Kathy Boockvar, Pennsylvania’s secretary of state, said in a Harvard University seminar earlier this week. The Secretary of State’s of most US states oversee the electoral process; there is no nationwide election commission.
While Republicans have been more aggressively door-knocking, Democrats have relied on decentralized Zoom gatherings to motivate volunteers to “deep canvass” — longer phone calls with potential swing voters to understand their concerns. Biden’s Philadelphia headquarters reportedly has remained closed since the beginning of the outbreak, and for the early portion of the race, Democrats had few field offices in battleground zones. Henry said his party has conducted “millions of phone calls and countless text messages.”
Trump has been continuously delegitimizing the process of mail-in voting. “By the way, who’s voted here so far? Oh, that’s good,” he said to a crowd with few raised hands in Allentown. “Because Pennsylvania is a very late voting state, which I like actually. For obvious reasons I like that.”
The process has led to almost 200 voting rights legal battles this year.
“These are about timely ballots that will take a few extra days to be received and counted, as they should. If it takes several days after November 3 for election officials to count the votes before the results are settled, that means democracy is working, not failing,” said Corey Goldstone of the Campaign Legal Center, which has been filing election litigation this year.
The change in voter methods might also skew real-time results. Some states are releasing results from their mail first, while others are announcing in-person votes first. Of the mail-in ballots requested, almost two-thirds were from Democrats and one-fourth Republican.
“We plan for the worst and hope for the best. We have an amazing voter protection team on a virtual ground. We’ve had a win every single step of the way in court. Our attorneys understand what we are up against,” said Henry.
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