PHILADELPHIA - Lincoln University students and Chester County residents have settled their federal lawsuit in which they alleged that the Chester County Board of Elections and Department of Voter Services deprived African-Americans in Lower Oxford Township of their right to vote by assigning them to inconvenient and inadequate polling facilities. On Election Day 2008, hundreds of Lower Oxford East voters - most of them African-American - waited up to seven hours in the pouring rain to cast their votes. Those who were unable to wait left without voting.
"The voting process in 2008 presidential election was a frustrating and time consuming process. With the changes coming, residents and students will have adequate facilities and better experience," said Wanda Havelow, who waited six hours in the rain next to active train tracks to vote.
The lawsuit charged that the long lines at Lower Oxford East resulted from a combination of factors, most importantly the location of the polling place in a tiny community center that could accommodate only two lines of voters, a small number of privacy booths and a single ballot scanner. Voting was slowed further by the failure of the Department of Voter Services to provide up-to-date voter rolls, a problem that did not occur at other polling places. After the 2008 election, in response to a voter petition to move the polling place to Lincoln's campus, the Board of Elections instead relocated the polling place to the township building, which is just as cramped as the community center, is more than a mile from the Lincoln University campus on a winding country road and is virtually inaccessible for students without a car.
As part of the settlement, the Board of Elections has agreed to return the Lower Oxford East polling place to the Lincoln University campus, where it had been in the 1990s. The county will notify all Lower Oxford East voter of the change in polling location. The county will also seek to transfer a portion of Lower Oxford East north of Baltimore Pike to Lower Oxford West.. Voters affected by that change will also be notified by mail that they will continue to vote at the township building. The federal court will retain jurisdiction over issues relating to the Lower Oxford East polling place through the 2012 presidential election, allowing plaintiffs to return quickly to the same judge if problems with the settlement arise.
"All people in this country have a chance to voice their opinion through the vote. Government with all of it responsibilities to the people should never demonstrate such little regard for the process that give people a sense of being free to have their voices heard," said Golden English, who had taken the day off work to vote but left before casting a ballot in order to babysit his granddaughter.
The plaintiffs are represented pro bono by Phil Wilson, John E. McKeever and Nicole Edwards of DLA Piper LLP (US); and by Michael Churchill of the Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia; Mary Catherine Roper of the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania; Bryan Sells of the American Civil Liberties Union Voting Rights Project; and Marian Schneider, Esq., a Chester County lawyer, election integrity and voting rights advocate.
- More information about the suit, including a copy of the original suit and the settlement