Throwing out a legal challenge that a county official had called an attempt at “voter suppression” in Chester, whose population is 70% Black, a Delaware County Court judge Thursday ruled that a temporary voter services center may open at the city’s soccer stadium this weekend.
Attorneys for eight Republican voters from other towns across the county had argued that the center would be unfair to non-Chester residents, who wouldn’t have a pop-up facility nearby and couldn’t easily drive to Chester. They also contended that those residents didn’t have sufficient time to weigh in on the plan.
But in rejecting the challenge, Judge Spiros E. Angelos said the petitioners failed to prove a violation of the Sunshine Act, which requires agencies to hold open and public meetings before making official decisions, and the county could proceed with the center, which will be open through Sunday.
“The Republican Party’s objective is to keep people from voting,” Delaware County Solicitor William Martin said. “They want to keep people from voting in Chester,” calling the petition a “voter suppression” effort.
With the decision, the county’s Bureau of Elections may go ahead and open the temporary center at Subaru Park, where the Philadelphia Union soccer team plays, as planned at 10 a.m. Friday. It is the county’s first pop-up site, though there are other permanent voter services centers like it in Media, Upper Darby, and elsewhere in Chester.
At the pop-up site, Delaware County residents can register to vote, request and drop off mail-in and absentee ballots, confirm the location of their polling places, and ask county officials questions about the voting process from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Friday and Saturday and from noon to 6 p.m. Sunday. Masks are required.
Martin, the county solicitor, said the challenge to the center was part of “a harassing pattern” by Republicans, who long controlled Delaware County. The GOP had ruled the collar county since before the Civil War — until last year, when Democrats took all five seats on the county council.
County officials would like to see more pop-up voting centers, not less, throughout the county, he said. Due to the coronavirus, however, he said these sites need to be large, outdoors, and owned by someone who is open to people coming in and out.
“This is not an attempt to attract a particular category of voters,” Martin said. “None of this has anything to do with driving turnout for a particular party. The objective of the county is to make sure that there’s a full and fair election where everyone who is properly registered has the opportunity to vote.”
Joel Frank — an attorney for the Delaware County Republican voters who are part of a “good government group ... that found out what was transpiring here" — said the county’s allegations of voter suppression were “laughable.”
“They didn’t follow the Sunshine Act, which is required,” said Frank, of the West Chester firm Lamb McErlane. “I think it’s a bit ironic, honestly, that this regime is talking about ‘transparency, transparency, transparency,’ yet they’re the ones that aren’t being transparent."
He said the injunction was not meant to strip Chester voters of their rights: There’s already the permanent voter services center in Chester, and Pennsylvanians are inundated with other ways they can register and cast their ballots.
For most Chester residents, the permanent center located at City Hall may be more convenient than the pop-up site, though county officials noted the temporary one has longer Saturday hours and is open Sunday. The Subaru Park site is at the far West End section of the city and separated from the downtown by a highway.
Like other Philadelphia professional sports teams, as well as those in cities across the country, the Philadelphia Union offered its home stadium to drive political engagement as the election approached. It is part of a growing movement by sports teams and athletes to encourage voting and promote activism.
Delaware County partnered with the Union for this center in the city of 34,000, a population that is 70% Black and 10% Hispanic or Latino. Located in the corner of Delaware County along the Delaware River, it is among the county’s poorest areas. The median household income is about $30,000 a year, according to census data, and more than 33% of residents live in poverty.