Trump fabricated allegations of voter fraud in Pennsylvania and called on his supporters to intimidate voters in Philadelphia, which is home to one in five of the state’s Democratic voters.
This is a rush transcript
Donald Trump: This will be the most corrupt election in the history of our country.
Jaisal Noor: Welcome to The Real News. I’m Jaisal Noor. While the president battles COVID-19, Donald Trump and his allies continue to attack mail-in voting, which many states have adopted to deal with the coronavirus pandemic. During the first presidential debate, Donald Trump continued to promote lies about voter fraud, attacking the integrity of the election, and it seemed encouraging voter intimidation in the democratic stronghold Philadelphia, which could determine who wins the election and where early voting is already underway.
Donald Trump: In Philadelphia, they went in to watch. They’re called poll watches. A very safe, very nice thing. They were thrown out. They weren’t allowed to watch. You know why? Because bad things happen in Philadelphia, bad things. And I am urging my people. I hope it’s going to be a fair election. If it’s a fair election-
Jaisal Noor: Republicans are more likely to vote in-person, and Democrats more likely to vote by mail, which adds to the drama that could play out once polls close on November 3rd. Trump could be ahead the night of the election and claim the election was being stolen from him as mail-in votes are counted. Well, now joining us to discuss this, our two guests. Akela Lacy is covering the 2020 election for The Intercept. Her latest piece is Trump Campaign Looks to Make Good on Poll Watching Threat in Philadelphia. And Bob Stewart is an elected Judge of Elections and serves on the executive board of Philadelphia’s 58th Democratic Ward. He’s a former journalist who’s covered courts, government and politics. Thank you both for joining us.
Bob Stewart: My pleasure. Thanks for having us.
Jaisal Noor: We know that under a lot of different scenarios, Pennsylvania, specifically Philly could help determine who the next president is. Akela, you’ve been on the ground during early voting and in the last debate, Trump talked … Trump obviously said countless lies and mistruths. And he talked about as we heard in the introduction about some of his supporters being kicked out of early voting locations. Can you talk about what happened and why this is so significant, what he’s alleging?
Akela Lacy: Yeah. The president during the debate and earlier in the day on Tuesday tweeted that some of his campaign poll watchers had been kicked out of early voting sites in Philadelphia. Some people were barred from entry, but what had actually happened is that the campaign did not have any registered poll watchers in the city as the Enquirer reported and sent people basically to try to illegally enter early voting centers, which the city is saying are not technically polling sites. You’re not allowed to have poll watchers or any sort of … Even if they were registered, they wouldn’t be allowed to go into these centers to observe voting.
One woman tried to go into a center in Overbrook and told an Enquirer reporter that she was kicked out. Trump appeared to refer to that person later during the debate. And then one of his campaign officials actually was kicked out of another center. It was said that he was being boisterous and was trying to film people voting. He appeared at the Philly commissioners meeting the next morning to request formally that the city allow the campaign to appoint poll watchers at these early voting centers, which the city said again they’re not polling sites indicating that that would not be allowed to happen.
Jaisal Noor: And Bob, so you have been covering elections and are involved in elections in Philadelphia for a long time. Talk about the significance of Trump’s comments and what’s been unfolding on the ground.
Bob Stewart: I think something that makes this a bad situation is you’re causing confusion with voters. You’re causing confusion with people who don’t vote in Philadelphia thinking that something’s going on. What makes me really nervous is there are 1,700 divisions in Philadelphia, about that. And I’m just a person working there. I’m not a security person or anything. If someone comes into these locations, accusing us of doing something or thinking something’s wrong, it could turn into a problem with control. And that could actually intimidate voters from coming in. I mean, we have people who … they just don’t want to be a part of all the ruckus, and that to me is intimidating voting.
We have to be, you have to be careful about what you say and how you say it, especially when you’re a person of power and influence. And I don’t think there’s anything to really worry about there. There is already poll watchers, a situation for the actual Election Day. You’re going to come in. If you want somebody at that place, you can have somebody at that place and they can observe, but they can’t interact with voters. They can’t disrupt the process, but that system’s already set up.
What’s going on now, it’s not a polling place. It’s a place. It’s basically like a glorified mailbox. You fill out your ballot and then you’re just bringing it there. Taking out the postage and the delivery and the time delay. You’re just delivering it directly to the office, which was allowed way before this. You could always bring it down to the election office. When the law was originally come up in the 2019, Act 77, you could always have brought it down to the office, and that wasn’t considered a polling place. And no one said anything then. No one said, “Hey, we should be able to have someone there.”
Now that they expanded the satellites to make it easier for people to get to the election office, why should that change? I just worry about what could happen on Election Day. People may be mistakenly thinking something’s going on and really nothing’s going on.
Jaisal Noor: And Akela, can you talk about, a little bit about the significance of Pennsylvania specifically and Philadelphia, something like one in five registered Democrats in Pennsylvania are in Philly, so that the role that could play, especially on determining who wins the selection.
Akela Lacy: Yeah. Hillary Clinton lost Pennsylvania by something like 44,000 votes in 2016. That’s far fewer people that live in the city of Philadelphia, which as you mentioned, is that is a concentration of the state’s Democratic population. People are not really concerned that Philly’s going to go for Trump. They’re more concerned that what’s going to happen in 2016 is going to happen again, which is that many people just did not vote, and that correlated with the blacker wards in the district or in the county, sorry, that that did not end up voting for Trump, but didn’t come out and vote. And may have voted for Obama and in 2016 or in 2008.
I mean, a lot of people are excited and were out on Tuesday at city hall. People in my family, everyone has been trying to get their ballots in early, but there is a large portion of the population that still doesn’t really, does not intend to vote. And so it’s a toss up as far as … That’s really what the concern is. It’s not so much like are Republicans going to flip people in Philadelphia? It’s more, are they going to sow as Bob mentioned, and is that going to add to the number of people who don’t end up voting for some reason before Election Day.
Jaisal Noor: Bob, we’ve seen a number of lawsuits in the state of Pennsylvania, especially from Republicans trying to challenge some of these voting rules. And we know that one of the lawsuits might get … is being appealed to the Supreme Court so we don’t know what the final … I was reading on CNN. We don’t know yet what the final voting rules may be. Trump said “Very bad things happen in Philadelphia.” What is he talking about?
Bob Stewart: I mean, I think it’s just a perception. It’s just one of those things where you say that and people are like, “Oh yeah, okay.” I mean, hey, it’s a really popular t-shirt in Philadelphia right now. You know, Philadelphians Didn’t really … They weren’t offended by it. But good things happen in Philadelphia. Let’s be honest, and I think that’s still happening.
Again, it goes back to just … The lawsuits are another thing where it’s causing confusion. I walk around my neighborhood as a committee person in my neighborhood and I go, I knock on doors. I leave the letter if I don’t hear anybody. And this year, it was a lot more leaving the letters because I know some of my elderly constituents here didn’t want to answer the door, and I understand, so I left the letter. I took phone calls today. People are just … They don’t know what they’re supposed to do so I’m just telling them, “Listen, do it real simple. Follow those rules in that thing. Take it over to the local place, which is the local high school near here. Deliver to the office. If you need a ride, give me a call.” Most people have a son or daughter who can take them over.
But I think it’s that confusion that just people are like, man, there’s so much going on with Supreme Court and Democrats and Republicans fighting. And then you have this person in the neighborhood. I mean, what are they supposed to think? What are they to do? And so even at the mail-in vote, which should have been fairly easy is now confused. And no one really knows if your ballot gets there late, is it going to get counted? They don’t really know now. If you make a mistake on how you fill out your ballot, is it going to count? They don’t really know now. Now you’ve got people who’ve already applied for the ballots. They got their ballot there. They are getting it this week. And they really don’t know if they should use that ballot. And then when you come into an election with it, I stay on top of all these rules, really well-versed and to the latest rule to the day before I file lawsuits at 9:00 in the morning on Election Day.
What I worry about is the 1,700 other places. If there’s 200 people like me, I’d be surprised as a Judge of Election. You have 1,500 people who aren’t going to really know the latest rules, who aren’t going to know, hey, when you come in with a filled in mail-in ballot, and you want to cancel it. Are you allowed to go in the machine or do you have to fill out a provisional ballot? And all this stuff that causes lines at the election booth. It causes problems. It causes people getting angry. Even when you have everything in order, people get angry and upset because they think something’s going on or something’s going on.
June 2nd was crazy because we were all in different voting locations. They had to consolidate a lot because of a lot of our poll workers out. Again, more confusion. You’re not in the right place. They took one division out of the place where we were. We were in the different place. I mean, I couldn’t tell you how many people I stood out there and met with my iPhone and went on Philadelphiavotes.com to punch in their address to find out where they were actually supposed to go after they had been coming to that location for the last decade.
And I just think things like this, every little thing causes a problem. And it’s not good for voting. We’re supposed to be making this, I mean, not super easy, but if you’re an eligible voter, it shouldn’t be hard to vote. You know what I mean? You should be able to come in, sign in, get into booth and do it. Or if you want to mail in ballot, get the ballot delivered to you, fill it out and mail it in. And I think we’re causing problems. We’re causing confusion. And it affects people from both parties. It’s not just Democrats. It’s everybody. And it’s not fair to voters, everybody, Pennsylvanians and Philadelphians, everything. That’s what upsets me.
Jaisal Noor: And Bob, you alluded to the primary election, which was significant in Pennsylvania, partially because it took a couple of weeks for the results to come down and be in the official, which we had a similar situation here in Baltimore where we didn’t know who the next … who the democratic nominee for mayor was going to be for I think about 18 days after the votes were cast. Have precautions, have steps been taken to get those results sooner because we know that there might be an effort to stop counting those votes?
Bob Stewart: From what I understand and I don’t speak from firsthand knowledge because I’m not an elected commissioner. From what I understand the machines they use to count the ballots were not set up for pandemic level mail-in ballots. They were purchased and ordered based on what they anticipated the mail-in vote to be in 2019, as they were looking forward. This is what it was. From what I understand, they have increased that capacity. Either they got faster machines or they have more machines, so they should be able to process more ballots. But I don’t know the specifics of that, like what I said. Having spoken to a couple of the commissioners from him since the summertime, that they were increasing their capacity to count ballots.
That said, it’s going to be a lot more ballots in the general election than there was in the primary. More people signed up to mail-in vote. More people vote in a general than a primary. I don’t know what their capacity is. It’s a better question for one of the three city commissioners, but this could be a little while, especially if Trump is leading in Pennsylvania on election night and the next day, because the mail-in ballots are where we obviously know that it’s a huge democratic five to one. I think that’s number going around. I’m not sure, but there’s a huge difference there. And a lot. If we’re talking about 2 million ballots, I’m afraid of what the unrest is going to be afterwards. You know?
Jaisal Noor: And Akela, let’s end with you. What are you going to be looking for keeping an eye on in these last few weeks before the election? And then also, if you want to comment on the sort of irony of all these top Republican officials apparently contracting COVID at the White House while they’re celebrating the nomination of any Amy Coney Barrett who Republicans want to appoint on the Supreme Court so she can be in place to help make a ruling if this election gets contested and goes to the Supreme Court after November 3rd.
Bob Stewart: Yeah. We’re going to be pretty busy the next couple of weeks. We’re focusing less on horse race. We were really focused on flippable Senate seats and what’s going to happen in battleground races, and now we’re just trying to wrap our heads around technical issues with ballots and what’s going to happen and all the new legislation that’s happening in crucial states, including Pennsylvania. Trying to report out really what is … Are ballots going to be counted? What are the possible issues? And what’s in place to prevent that from being done in a fair and quick way?
As far as the Republicans who have contracted COVID. I mean, I don’t have a whole lot to say other than I think people were just, I think most people just that it was a matter of time before something like this was going to happen. It’s unfortunate to have a crisis like this at the top levels of government, particularly when the country is in such a vulnerable position. But they were not, I mean, they weren’t taking necessary precautions. That much as clear from … we saw during the RNC to the Amy Coney Barrett’s nomination meeting I guess at the White House recently where … the super spreader event where most of these cases are being traced back to.
Yeah, I guess it’s unfortunate that the party in charge is continuing to put the country in a stranglehold, and that the Democrats aren’t necessarily going to … Schumer only have so much control, but they’re going to allow them to postpone or fast track or do whatever they need to do with Amy Coney Barrett’s nomination. And I think it’s unfortunate that an avoidable viruses is putting the country again in this position that we’ve been, I don’t know, digging ourselves into since March. But yeah, I mean, I think everyone thinks that it’s overall it’s unfortunate.
Jaisal Noor: All right. Well, Akela Lacy and Bob Stewart, thank you both for joining us. And we’ll keep checking in with you both as we get closer to that big day, November 3rd, where we might not really know anything at that point, but that’ll be Election Day. Thank you both for joining us.
Akela Lacy: Thanks, Jaisal.
Bob Stewart: Thank you.
Jaisal Noor: Thank you for joining us at The Real News Network.
Post-Production: Taylor Hebden
Production: Andrew Corkery