Letter to the Delco Times

September 28, 2020

To the Times:

The chairman of the Haverford Township Republican Party, Jim Knapp, sent out an email last week to his local members with the subject line: “What you can do to stop voter fraud this year.”  The purpose of the email was to rally Republican volunteers to “work at the Haverford Township polls on election day – to hand out literature on candidates and to observe inside poll workers.”

Take note: Mr. Knapp was not seeking volunteers to work inside the polls, where citizens are needed to make Election Day run smoothly.  No, a week after the state Supreme Court said poll watchers must live in the county where they are watching polls, he sends out a frantic email screaming about “Stopping fraud” in order to elicit local volunteers to stand around outside the polls to provide a show of force, to violate social distancing guidance with literature hand-outs, and, from their perch outside the polls, “to observe the inside poll workers.”

Several of us in the Haverford Democratic Party have devoted real time in the last four months to encouraging Democrats, especially younger Democrats, to step up and work inside the polls because the seniors we rely on to do that work at every election have COVID reasons for not doing so this year. Our pitch has been that working inside the polls is a non-partisan, good citizen, good government thing to do. We never recruited Dems in the name of preventing Republican skullduggery. We said we need poll workers so that each precinct’s polling location can open and all voters, regardless of party, can vote.

Fact is, the law says that every county in  the state is supposed to have inside workers who are both Republican and Democrat. The Republican County Council never paid any attention to this law and, over time, the number of Republicans working inside the polls has declined in both Delco and Haverford Township while the number of Democrats has risen to meet the civic need. Consider the June 2020 primary when COVID caused Haverford to temporarily consolidate our 36 precinct polling locations down to 16. The call went out, of course, for younger workers to serve on one of the five-person inside poll teams. Jim Knapp did exactly nothing to answer that call.  On primary day, the polls were staffed with 63 Democrats, 16 Republicans, and three “other” citizens. Only one of the 16 Republicans was new to working at the polls. If any Republican wants to squawk that Haverford broke election rules by not having equal numbers from each party working the polls, they should go talk to Jim Knapp and then ask themselves: Would I have preferred not opening some of those polling locations in June to having Dems staff them?

Now here we are on the eve of the election that President Trump has declared the most important in U.S. history, and Jim Knapp’s Republican Party is not calling for volunteers to make sure that all the polling locations can open. This is the party whose leader says that only votes cast in person at polling locations on Election Day should be counted. Yet Mr. Knapp is more interested in observing inside poll workers than actually recruiting them. This is in line with Mr. Knapp’s recent failure to work with the county and local Democrats to restore our full number of 36 polling locations but replace seven that are not COVID safe. Knapp has obstructed that effort, leaving two precincts in Ward 1 – a Republican-majority ward – still looking for safe polling sites. Who is served by that negligence?

Fortunately for all of us, the Democratic County Council has hired a qualified person to ensure that polls are staffed by both Republicans and Democrats on Nov. 3. The county is paying someone to do a job that volunteers like Jim Knapp are supposed to do.  Note to Republicans: If you want election rules followed to the letter and don’t like government spending, then you have to volunteer in the way Democrats do. Step up.

Mr. Knapp’s email misled local Republicans in another serious way.  He claimed that the primary election included a “voting disaster” in which “some areas of Delaware County had over 100% (!) and some areas had zero votes counted.” And, oh, “imagine if this happens in the fall.”  If this were the “fraud” that Knapp suggests, then why was his county Republican Party not threatening lawsuits in June?  Why was Jim Byrne, the Republican on the Board of Elections, not pounding the table?  Why is U.S. Attorney General Bill Barr wasting his time in Luzerne County with 12 lousy little mishandled votes instead of looking at the Delco voting “disaster?”

Jim Knapp knows full well exactly why. He knows that this wasn’t a “voting disaster” and no fraud was involved. He knows all about the primary’s consolidated polls, and he knows that, in a handful of cases in Delco (not in Haverford) poll workers had to serve two precincts at once and, mistakenly, gave voters from one precinct the ballots for the other precinct. That is why it looked like there was over 100% in some precincts and zero in in others. The county Bureau of Elections caught this very human error (caused, in part, by the Republicans’ failure to recruit workers). The Bureau carefully retraced all the steps to affirm that the number of votes cast at each polling location matched the number of voters who signed in. Every voter’s vote was counted – and counted just once. No fraud, no disaster. 

In addition, Mr. Knapp knows full well that this error cannot happen in the fall election for two reasons: (1) Delco will not consolidate polling locations; every precinct will have its own space and (2) in contrast to the June primary, each precinct will be using election machines that include scanners to record the votes from each paper ballot. Each scanner will be programmed for only that one precinct, and every scanner will flash or buzz or jump up and down and wave its little scanner arms if a voter accidentally tries to feed it a ballot that is labeled for another precinct. Knowing all of this, Mr. Knapp tells the Haverford Republicans that Delco could end up looking “like Florida in 2000,” adding “who know what kind of insanity” might ensue on Nov. 3.

I say Mr. Knapp knows all of this because I assume he can read the emails he receives regularly from the Bureau of Elections and is capable of doing his job as chairman the Haverford Republican Party.  Assuming his competence, I must conclude that he has consciously chosen to misguide his party members in order to stir them up into an angry lather.  He could, instead, have soberly encouraged them to do their civic duty: Volunteer to work inside the polls. It is there, if you think about, that Republicans have the best opportunity to see if any fraud is actually occurring.  But maybe Mr. Knapp doesn’t want that. Maybe he doesn’t want Republicans working side-by-side with Democrats at the polls on Election Day, as they have done amicably for decades in Haverford.  Maybe he doesn’t want Republican inside poll workers certifying that everything in that precinct was on the up and up. Maybe his letter tells us exactly what he wants: Angry Haverford Republicans wandering around outside the polls where they can make the mood unpleasant for all voters but not do anything to prevent the fraud Knapp imagines lying under every Democratic ballot.  

It doesn’t have to be this way.  We could, as fellow township members, agree to make this a smooth-running Election Day dedicated to the rights and welfare of every voter in our community.  How ‘bout it, Mr. Knapp? 

Victoria Brown, Haverford