A well-known alt-right website has announced Election Day plans to flood Philadelphia with poll watchers, install hidden video cameras at polling places, and give out marijuana and liquor to residents in the “ghetto” as a way to keep them home.
It sounds like outrageously bad farce. But so much about this election has been utterly farcical, yet here we are in the closing days with a tightening presidential race between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.
There’s another reason to take this stuff seriously: Of all the conjecture about who needs to win where to get the 270 electoral votes needed to be victorious, one of the most interesting subplots is the Philadelphia story.
It’s no accident Democrats held their convention in Philly.
It’s no accident Clinton and her surrogates kept returning there.
And it’s no accident they’ll close the Democratic campaign in the city, with a rally Monday night featuring Hillary, Bill and Chelsea Clinton, President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama.
Pennsylvania, with its 20 electoral votes, is part of Clinton’s firewall, and Philly and its suburbs are the foundation of that wall.
The last Republican to win the state was George H.W. Bush in 1988. But Trump thought he could break through and he’s spent a lot of time there. Without Pennsylvania, his path gets very narrow.
Obama carried the state over Mitt Romney in 2012 by a little more than 300,000 votes. He won Philadelphia by 460,000 votes, and took three of the four surrounding suburban counties by nearly 120,000 votes. Romney won the fourth, Chester County, by 1,000.
Trump needs to win those suburbs and hold down the black vote in the city to have any chance.
That’s why he mentioned Philadelphia in his baseless charge of “horrendous” election fraud, and encouraged mostly white supporters to watch polls in “other communities” to make sure the election isn’t stolen from them.
That’s why legendary dirty trickster and Trump ally Roger Stone is targeting 2,000 precincts in Philly for what he calls a volunteer exit-polling operation.
And that’s why black church leaders in the city, alarmed at what they see as a voter suppression campaign, are organizing their own polling station patrols.
Add in promises to monitor polls nationwide mostly by various right-wing, white nationalist, and militia groups roused by Trump and it’s possible Philadelphia on Tuesday turns out to be something other than the City of Brotherly Love.
Paranoia? It’s not like stuff hasn’t happened. In 2004, hundreds of students at the University of Pittsburgh waited hours to vote because GOP attorneys acting as poll watchers started challenging the credentials of nearly every young person in line.
And it’s not like stuff hasn’t been going on this fall in other battleground states.
Like North Carolina, another part of Clinton’s firewall. New voter restrictions there were struck down in July by a federal appeals court because they targeted blacks “with almost surgical precision.” The state GOP then advised local election boards to restrict voting hours and locations. And the NAACP filed suit after thousands of voters, mostly blacks and Democrats, were purged after mail sent to their addresses was returned as undeliverable. Some of it was a GOP mass mailing marked DO NOT FORWARD. One purged voter, a 100-year-old black woman, has lived in the same town her entire life. A federal judge called the process “insane.”
Georgia and Florida saw attempts by Republican officials to limit new voter registrations.
So, will this be a Philly farce? Who knows. But one can hope that with so many eyeballs watching, Election Day in Philadelphia is only a drama, and nothing more.
Michael Dobie is a member of Newsday’s editorial board.