Pa. first responders express frustration with restrictive election laws

Around 500 first responders in Philadelphia will be working on Election Day, and are not eligible for absentee ballots


PHILADELPHIA — First responders in Philadelphia are expressing their frustration with Pennsylvania’s election laws.

The Inquirer reported that around 500 responders will be working on Election Day and are not eligible for absentee ballots, including Philadelphia Fire Department EMT Thomas Scheuerman, who is hoping a colleague will cover part of his shift so he can vote.

"If he says no, I'm kind of buggered, I'm kind of stuck," Scheuerman said. "If there's a situation and someone says no — has childcare issues or something — I'm stuck, I won't vote this year."

Around 500 responders will be working on Election Day and are not eligible for absentee ballots. (Photo/FreeThePeople.org)
Around 500 responders will be working on Election Day and are not eligible for absentee ballots. (Photo/FreeThePeople.org)

Early in-person voting is not allowed in the state, making it even more difficult for first responders who work 12-hour shifts to vote.

"We're not allowed to vote, basically," 15-year veteran firefighter Jack Eltman said. "You've got somebody who lives in the Northeast section of the city, works in the Southwest section of the city, there's absolutely zero chance that person's going to be able to vote before or after their shift. And they're unable to fill out an absentee ballot.”

According to Pennsylvania law, absentee voting is allowed if someone is working on Election Day, but only if they will be out of town. However, firefighters and EMS providers are required to live in the city for their first year on the job, and the majority of responders remain in the city after the requirement expires.

"This completely disenfranchises them," Robin Kolodny, a Temple University political science professor, said. "People should be outraged by that, it's completely inappropriate."

State Rep. Martina White said that while the process to amend the voting laws will take several years, it should be done.

"There is an opportunity for us to help [first-responders] and give them what every other citizen gets to do, and be able to vote," White said.

Scheurman hopes something can be done.

"I work Christmas, I work Thanksgiving. I work holidays, nights, weekends," Scheuerman said, adding that he is willing to make sacrifices because "that's the job I've chosen, that's the job I love,” but “I don’t think voting should be one of them.”

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