To Philly for the sake of democracy

Edgartown residents traveled to Philadelphia to serve as poll watchers.

Edgartown residents Beth O’Connor and Jonathan Chatinover are headed to Philadelphia to serve as poll watchers. — Rich Saltzberg

Updated Nov. 4

Edgartown residents Beth O’Connor and Jonathan Chatinover went to Philadelphia on Monday to serve as poll watchers on Election Day. The husband and wife were in different North Philadelphia precincts, working on behalf of the Pennsylvania Democratic Party.

Prior to driving down, the couple spoke with The Times.

“I think several thousand people are coming to help Pennsylvania,” O’Connor said. “I’m at a housing authority, and he’s at a community center.”

Pennsylvania was considered a battleground state in the presidential election between incumbent Donald Trump and Democratic candidate Joe Biden. Pundits have been saying for weeks that the Electoral College–rich state is a tossup. A New York Times poll released over the weekend had Biden leading Trump by 6 percent in a poll of likely voters. At 10 am Wednesday, the Washington Post reported 76 percent of the state’s ballots were counted. Trump had 2,977,987 and Biden had 2,390,331. Pennsylvania has 20 electoral votes, compared with 11 for Massachusetts. By most accounts, those electoral votes are pivotal to the outcome of the election.

On Monday, O’Connor said Pennsylvania was the nearest place they felt they could be of use.

“Being on the Vineyard at this time is very frustrating, because you’re surrounded by like-minded people,” she said. She added the Vineyard has no voter suppression to worry about. 

O’Connor said while Maine had a close Senate race and is closer, voter suppression isn’t much of a threat there. 

In Philadelphia, she and Jonathan were to watch and report about anyone denied their right to vote and anyone intimidated while waiting to vote. They did this from outside the polling places they are watching because, O’Connor noted, only Pennsylvania residents are allowed inside those polling places. 

The poll-watching operation is “really well orchestrated,” she said. She and Jonathan have gone through training, and were given a special phone app to help them in their work. If something unusual or urgent arose at one of the polling places they watched, they would have a direct line to a “boiler room” of lawyers who could troubleshoot.

O’Connor stressed she and her husband’s jobs were observational only. “We would never confront,” she said. She also said they were not there to take pictures. The overarching philosophy is safety first, she said. She noted Pennsylvania is an open-carry state, so people appearing with firearms visible was a possibility.

The couple expected a long day. Their Election Day shifts started at 6:30 am, and would not end until the last person in line got through the door to the polling station, she said, which could push past the 8:30 pm poll close.

After that, she and Jonathan have two weeks of quarantine.

“We already have our COVID tests scheduled for our return,” she said.

Massachusetts currently requires anyone traveling to Massachusetts to either quarantine for 14 days or have a negative test result within two days of returning.

“The reason why I was interested in this is I really hate voter intimidation,” Chatinover said. He said he and O’Connor were “just doing our little part to try to prevent that.”

“The right to vote is paramount,” O’Connor said.

“Everyone should have the right to vote, and it shouldn’t be a chore, and it shouldn’t be intimidating,” Chatinover said. 


‘A great experience’

Reached on their drive back Wednesday morning, Chatinover and O’Connor said they encountered no real difficulties at their observation posts. 

“It was a great experience,” O’Connor said.

Both said lines only appeared in the morning, and then only for a short time. At the community center where he was stationed, Chatinover said, it was a bit cumbersome for voters to gain entrance to the polls. The door was locked ,and a doorbell needed to be rung to get inside, he said.

“Most of the people at our precinct had already voted,” O’Connor said. For those who hadn’t, she described the atmosphere as “festive,” with food, music, and a lot of community assistance to ensure voters got to the polls. 

“Most of the time the activists outnumbered the voters,” she said.

She said there was no representation from the Rebublican Party. Chatinover said where he was stationed, a van drove past with people hollering for Trump, but “that was it.”

Chatinover and O’Connor said they had no role in the mail-in vote count, as only Pennsylvania residents can participate. 

Asked if she had a feel for which way the presidential vote would go in the state, O’Connor said,

“It really depends on all these mail ballots. I would guess that those are going to be mainly Democrats, but I think it’s way too early to call.”

The count can go until Friday at midnight before it must stop.

“They’re counting around the clock,” she said. 


Updated with post-election-day reflections from the poll watchers.