Philadelphia has a long reputation of fixing elections as a means of controlling patronage and municipal contracts. Voter intimidation also has occurred. In the 1960s, cops would routinely hassle black voters trying to vote. But intimidation can take many forms. In 2012, two members of the radical New Black Panther Party used nightsticks and racial epithets in an effort to scare white voters away from a Philadelphia polling place. The Obama administration ended up dropping almost all of the charges in the case against the Panthers.
The potential for fraud is also considerable. “People working the polls don’t ask for ID,” says Jimmy Tayoun, a former city councilman who went to prison in the 1990s for corruption. “You can flood a lot of phony names on phony addresses, and there’s no way they’re going to check.” In 1993, a federal judge had to overturn a special state senate election in which Democratic precinct workers had gone door to door with absentee ballot forms and “helped” voters fill them out. Ed Rendell, then Philadelphia’s mayor and later the state’s governor, explained away the irregularities at the time by saying, “I don’t think it’s anything that’s immoral or grievous, but it clearly violates the election code.”
Arlen Specter, who served Pennsylvania for 30 years in the Senate, first as a Republican and then as a Democrat, strongly opposed voter fraud during his career. He openly scoffed at liberal claims that there is no voter fraud. “They don’t see what they don’t want to see,” he told me before this death in 2011. “I’m from Philadelphia. It’s been a way of life here.” He said that even though he was a Democrat he stood by his 2007 vote in favor of requiring photo ID in all federal elections.