OP-ED: County leaders, we urge you: Act now to ensure an equal election

York County Community Advisory Board
Voters exit Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church after voting in the Primary Election in York Township, Tuesday, June 2, 2020. Dawn J. Sagert photo

Dear York County Commissioners & Board of Elections, 

We, the governing board of the newly instituted York County Community Advisory Board write this letter to address apparent acts of voter suppression taking place in York County.

In the Primary Election held June 3, 2020, county leadership failed to provide timely updates to community members regarding the impact of COVID-19 on our voting infrastructure, causing historically low voter turnout. Historically, African-American, Latinx, disabled and low-income voters have faced tireless attempts to silence and otherwise nullify their votes. When the culprits of these attacks are not held accountable, the integrity of our future elections processes comes into question. 

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In response to Jim Crow laws that allowed voter suppression to go unchecked, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 promised all people the right to vote without denial; yet, today in York County, there are unsettling similarities between those historical tactics and the mishandling of the primary election. Since the Holder v. Shelby Supreme Court ruling in 2013, the Supreme Court has agreed to hear additional challenges that threaten the future of the Voting Rights Act and its promise.

Although the county’s Board of Elections and our commissioners — President Commissioner Julie Wheeler, Vice President Commissioner Doug Hoke and Commissioner Ron Smith — have recently erected new policies to address their previous mishandlings, we must bring awareness to their practices and ensure history does not repeat itself. 

With the Nov. 3 general election fast approaching, York County voters face a multitude of problematic uncertainties including, but not limited to, the following: 

● Polling place reductions or consolidations 

● Polling place relocations 

● Accommodations to support the absentee and mail-in ballot process

● Increased distance between voters’ homes and the polls because of precinct closures and relocations 

● Limited public transportation to the new voting locations 

● Polling place confusion by splitting precincts in York City 

● Lack of a succession plan to replace poll workers and judges of elections 

● Refusal to erect secure drop boxes to walk in absentee or mail-in ballots 

We are deeply concerned these issues will continue in future elections if left unaddressed. 

These examples of alarming voter suppression have relevant implications that threaten the strength of our democracy. We, the people, implore the powers that be, city officials, county commissioners, for-profit and not-for-profit organizations alike, to prioritize and allocate their resources for the education and engagement of residents on the outlined issues. There is great urgency to prioritize working with municipalities (specifically York City) to address, minimize and remove these identified barriers to voting promptly. We, the Community Advisory Board, propose the following list of realistic and viable solutions that would begin to address these issues: 

● Ongoing public transportation from 7 a.m. - 8:30 p.m. to and from polling stations

● Placement of secure drop-boxes throughout the county to minimize lack of access to polling stations and postal delays 

● Ongoing and transparent community conversations to engage and listen to the concerns of all of the citizens of York County 

● Equal representation from disenfranchised community residents, specifically in York City, to serve on the election committee’s planning sessions 

The Community Advisory Board writes this letter to urge county leaders to act quickly to reverse any acts that directly or indirectly threaten York County voters in the upcoming election. The work of racial equity is not about the talk or condemnation of racism. It is about the effort and actionable steps taken to secure equity. 

We invite all who care to work with us to ensure the administration of a fair election on Nov. 3, 2020. We hope to receive “actionable” plans and objectives from county leadership by Sunday, Oct. 24, 2020. 

— This letter was signed by Richard Craighead, AliceAnne D. Frost, Sharee D. McFadden, Sherry Washington, Jeff Kirkland, Meagan Given, Jamiel Alexander, Diaz Woodard, Monea Tamara Abdul-Majeed, York NAACP President Sandra Thompson and Brandt Kingsley.