As residents lined up outside the Chester Senior Community Center to start casting their ballots on Tuesday, Nov. 3, they were greeted by campaign volunteers cheering them on.
Unlike poll workers, who work inside the polling place and manage actual voting, campaign volunteers wait outside, often giving voters information about candidates, races, and ballot initiatives. Pennsylvania law says campaign volunteers must stay 10 feet away from the entrance to a polling place.
“The voice of Chester needs a system that supports us,” Kathleen White, a long-serving campaign volunteer at the community center, said as she greeted voters outside the polling place. “I have been out here since 6 o’clock this morning!”
The Delaware County city is among the country’s poorest areas. About 70% of Chester’s population is Black, and most of its voters are between the ages of 24 to 65. According to census data, more than 33% of residents live in poverty and the median household income is around $30,000 a year.
In 1995, Chester was declared a financially distressed municipality and officially entered into financial receivership with the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania earlier this year.
Receivership, though, has meant more resources to spend on civic functions like voting. For instance, this Election Day was one of a few in recent memory where poll workers could afford to give out voting swag.
This year, Chester’s polling place was able to give people stickers to show their voting pride, adding to an overall optimism felt by volunteers.
In 2018, during the midterm elections, volunteers voiced disappointment at not being able to give voters “I voted” stickers.
“Because there was not enough funding for them,” White said.
“I have been out here since 7 o’clock this morning,” campaign volunteer Gednay Bowman said. “The weather is not bad, the lunch they provided for us was good, and I am happy and glad.”
Given a lack of funding, Chester’s polling locations receive little voting equipment. Voting stations are made up of cardboard dividers on a table which could fit 3 or 4 people.
“Last time I was here to vote, they didn’t have any voting memorabilia but the year before that they did,” Jannah Abdul-Azir, a vet tech student at Manor College, said. “I just love that no matter what the circumstance, I see the same smiling faces and helpful people every time.”
“Voting in Chester is important because it signals to political leaders that Chester matters,” Abdul-Azir said.
Better representation means more funding, and more funding guarantees a stronger and more stable community, she said.
“The city of Chester deserves so much more than it is given,” Abdul-Azir said. “We need things, even the smallest of things, and that is why today is so important.”
Throughout the day, voters and volunteers alike celebrated their civic pride. At one point, Bowman posed with his friend and fellow campaign volunteer Michael Collier outside, cheering “11th Ward, 3rd Precinct!” as a photo was taken.
“I think we need a change, simple as that,” Collier said while greeting friends and voters with flyers.
For Collier, greeting voters as they enter the polling site is an important part of informing them about the issues that impact their community.
“Local elections also are very important, which is why I am passing out these flyers with our local candidates,” he said. “That’s where they pass laws for things that are really close to us: health care, schools for our children, and our finances.”
For White, staying involved in the electoral process is crucial to make the community stronger.
“This day is so important because the whole world is in need of big change,” White said. “The children are in need of brighter futures.”
Editor’s note: Our special reporting on COVID-19 may focus on communities outside Philadelphia because many of our student journalists are now temporarily located outside of the city. Instead, our reporters will cover how the coronavirus is impacting their own communities from across the country and around the world. We will return to hyperlocal coverage of Philadelphia’s neighborhoods as soon as possible.
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*Correction: An earlier version of this story stated that the Senior Center is the only polling place in Chester. The article has been edited to remove that statement.