PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Philadelphia election officials are pushing back against comments President Donald Trump made during the debate on Tuesday night. They say the satellite election offices they’ve opened are not polling places and therefore, poll watchers are unnecessary and not allowed.
Ten more will open up over the next few weeks. Seven are now open, but these are not official polling places and that’s why political experts tell Eyewitness News that campaign watchdogs of either party have no right to be inside of them, not yet anyway.
In a letter sent to Philadelphia city commissioners, an attorney representing the Trump campaign questioned the legality of poll watchers being denied entry to new city election offices. The campaign is threatening to sue over all of this.
It started with a tweet from the president’s son alleging that the campaign’s poll watchers were “blocked” and “kicked out” of the newly opened satellite election centers in Philadelphia. That led to this comment from Trump during Tuesday night’s presidential debate.
“You know why? Because bad things happen in Philadelphia,” Trump said. “Bad things.”
During a city commissioner’s elections meeting on Wednesday at the Pennsylvania Convention Center, officials adamantly responded to the president’s remarks.
“My reaction was that he said the same thing in 2016 for those of us who remember back then,” Philadelphia City Commissioner Lisa Deeley said. “It was pretty much the same chant about Philadelphia.”
Philadelphia elections officials have opened seven new satellite election offices around the city, where voters can request, receive, fill out and submit a mail ballot in one stop. Ultimately, 17 will be open by Election Day on Nov. 3. They say these are not polling places, just temporary centers and poll workers are not required by law.
“It is not a polling location,” Deeley said. “It is a temporary election office where services are made available to citizens who would like to register to vote or request their mail-in ballot. They can vote their mail ballot there or they can take it home and vote on it at their dining room table.”
Representatives from the Trump campaign made their argument to elections officials, saying they want a presence at these centers.
“The confusion may be from the Trump campaign is that these are technically not early voting locations like they are in other states,” Committee of Seventy President David Thornburg said. “It’s an allowance for people to pick up their mail ballot, fill it out and return it.”
Thornburg is the president of the Committee of Seventy, an independent and nonpartisan organization promoting better government.
Thornburg explained a limited number of certificates for poll watchers are given to campaigns and political parties each election, but they apply only to official polling places on Election Day and during the final count. No certificates have been issued, according to city officials.
“The law, which was written back in 1937, was just to try and make sure that you had eyes from both parties on the process,” Thornburg said, “but that’s not what this is. This wasn’t a polling location.”
The letter from the Trump campaign attorneys included “if these satellite election offices are not polling places, then they are public places and the campaign should not be denied access.”
With five weekends until Election Day, preserving the vote — whether by mail or in-person — and protecting voters’ rights is of utmost importance in a battleground state like Pennsylvania.
State officials vehemently stand behind laws countering the Trump campaign’s allegations.
“The president alleged that poll watchers were wrongfully kept out of these satellite offices,” Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar said. “This is completely inaccurate.”
CBS3’s Natasha Brown and Alexandria Hoff contributed to this report.