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York County's constables - peacekeepers of the polls - report high turnout, no issues

Liz Evans Scolforo
York Dispatch

Election Day passed smoothly at York County's polling sites with no reports of violence, intimidation or political arguments, despite some voters having to wait in long lines to cast their ballots.

That's according to several of York County's constables, who said most people don't know that in Pennsylvania, the responsibility for keeping the peace at polling places falls squarely on the constabulary.

"We’re there strictly as peacekeepers and to make sure free and fair elections occur," said Constable Terry White.

"The constables play a critical role on Election Day," York County District Attorney Dave Sunday said. "They're tremendously important."

Unless police officers are specifically called to a polling place by the judge of elections for a disturbance — or are there to vote — state law forbids them from being any closer than 100 feet to a polling site.

"I was definitely prepared for the worst but hoped for the best," said Constable Chuck Green, president of the York County Constables Association. "And the best happened."

Green monitors five polling places in West Manchester Township. He said the only issue he had on Tuesday was a fender-bender in the parking lot of one of the polling places. No one was hurt, he said.

Voters in good spirits: White, who's responsible for keeping the peace at three polling places in Codorus Township, said voters were congenial toward each other and he saw no issues or problems.

Hundreds wait in line to vote at Northeastern Middle School, Tuesday, November 3, 2020
John A. Pavoncello photo

"For the level of turnout, I don't think it could have gone any better," White told The York Dispatch, adding the mood at the polls was as nice as Tuesday's sunny, mild weather.

"Everyone was in fairly good spirits."

Like other constables, White said lines were long but thinned out after 2 p.m. By the end of the evening, there were no lines at all at Codorus Township's polling sites, he said.

New Salem Constable Carl Barley, who's been a constable in York County for nearly 30 years, had the same experience.

"Everything went perfectly," he said. "We had unbelievable turnout."

Barley said when he last checked on Tuesday, New Salem had 83% voter turnout, though that number may have increased. He said turnout was higher than in the previous presidential election.

First-time voters: "I had several people — and they were older people — telling me this was the first time they voted," he said. "There were a good many first-time voters," including younger ones.

Barley said on a typical Election Day, he will sees a rush of voters in the morning, in the afternoon and in the evening but that on Tuesday, the stream of voters was steady from 7 a.m. until about 2 p.m.

"Maybe it's because a lot more people are working from their homes now, so they were able to get out earlier to vote," he said, adding New Salem voters didn't have to wait much longer than 15 minutes to cast their ballots.

Two long lines of people waiting to vote Tuesday at the Newberry Twp. municipal building at 2.40 p.m. Those not far from the front door said they’d been in line about half an hour. They also said they hadn’t seen any arguments breaking out.  Liz Evans Scolforo photos

At some York County polling places, voters waited in lines for two hours or longer.

Reviewing complaints: The district attorney said he's reviewing voter complaints filed with Pennsylvania's Department of State, which were forwarded to him.

The majority of the complaints were about the voting process, Sunday said. A number of voters reported that lines were too long, or that the wait to vote was too long, he said, but there were no reports of violence.

"Most of the 'process' complaints turned out to be either a mistake or they were remedied," the DA said. "It was a good day with regard to how everyone treated each other as members of a community."

Sunday said he is forwarding process-type complaints to Julie Wheeler, president of York County's Board of Commissioners.

Sunday and a number of York County's top law-enforcement officials released a public-service announcement video last week, warning people that they expect citizens to treat each other with civility and respect during this contentious election season.

"I think some people were comforted by that," he said. "I think it reminded the community … that we're doing everything we can to make sure the public is safe."

Waiting game: It's critical that people show patience and let the election process play out going forward, the DA said.

"It's a waiting game, with all these legal challenges and recounts," he said. "We want to make sure that during this period of uncertainty, we treat each other with respect, as neighbors and colleagues."

From Ann Marie Gwiazdowski Sommer on Facebook: 45 minute wait in Manchester Township. Well done. Get out and VOTE! Location: Zion Lutheran Church.

White also serves as public information officer for the Commonwealth Constables Association. He issued a news release on behalf of the organization that calls constables "one of the least understood and under-utilized law enforcement officials."

Constables make about $100, give or take, for working on Election Day, he confirmed.

While elected constables can choose to parlay the position into a job by serving warrants, transporting prisoners and handling other work from magisterial district judges, they don't have to.

A constable's only duty, according to state law, is to be present at the polls for voting and vote-counting, "to ensure that the peace is preserved," his news release states.

— Reach senior crime reporter Liz Evans Scolforo at levans@yorkdispatch.com or on Twitter at @LizScolforoYD.

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