Luzerne County sheriff deputies will be stationed throughout the county on Election Day to respond to safety or security concerns, as they were in the April primary, officials said Thursday.
Deputies have always been on call in elections but typically were dispatched from the county courthouse in Wilkes-Barre in prior years.
Election watchdog Bob Caruso publicly urged county officials this week to keep sheriff deputies “fully deployed” Nov. 8 to protect voters from the “potential for large-scale intimidation” stemming from the hotly contested presidential race.
A total of 204,949 county residents have registered to vote. Voters cast their ballots at 152 buildings throughout the county, mostly fire departments, church halls and municipal properties.
County Sheriff Brian Szumski said Thursday his deputies will be positioned so they can arrive at all locations in a “reasonable time frame” but stressed his workers also must handle regular duties transporting prisoners, securing county court rooms and serving court papers on election day.
“If there’s an immediate threat to anyone, people have a personal responsibility to contact police,” Szumski said.
Elected constables also must be at polling places on election day, said county Election Director Marisa Crispell.
State law says these constables must be present, including while votes are counted, “for the purpose of preserving the peace.”
Officials in some areas throughout the country have cancelled classes on Election Day at schools that also serve as polling locations due to concerns about violence.
Three elementary schools in Luzerne County, all in the Wilkes-Barre Area School District, house polling places — Flood, Kistler and Dodson.
District Solicitor Ray Wendolowski said Thursday he was not aware of any discussion about closing these schools.
Crispell said she will work with school officials to discuss any special security concerns. She said she also meets with Szumski before each election to review possible alerts and the sheriff’s staffing plans. Deputies also direct traffic outside the county’s Penn Place Building on Pennsylvania Avenue in Wilkes-Barre to allow all election workers to drop off their results after the polls close, she said.
The state issued a bulletin to election officials providing guidance on voter intimidation, saying any activity that “threatens, harasses or intimidates” voters inside or outside a polling place is illegal.
This intimidation would include the use of force, violence and actual or threatened infliction of injury, damage, harm or loss to induce someone to vote or refrain from voting for a particular candidate, the bulletin said. Those found guilty of intimidation face up to two years in prison and a $5,000 fine.
The bulletin lists some examples of intimidation:
• Aggressive behavior inside or outside a polling place;
• Blocking a polling place entrance;
• Direct confrontation or questioning of voters;
• Disrupting voting lines inside or outside a polling place;
• Flashy showing of weapons;
• Photographing or videotaping voters to intimidate them;
• Using raised voices, insulting, offensive or threatening language, or making taunting chants inside the polling place.
Voters who witness or are subjected to intimidation are advised to report the incident to county election officials and the county district attorney, the state said.
Campaign workers and signs must remain at least 10 feet away from the polling-place entrance, the state said.