PHILADELPHIA ― The man running the Donald Trump campaign’s election protection effort claimed Tuesday that a Trump poll watcher was “threatened with a belt” at a polling place in Northeast Philadelphia and that he feared an “attack was imminent.” He also claimed the same poll watcher found votes on the machines before the polls opened this morning.
But the election judge at the Wissinoming Recreation Center says that’s not quite what happened, and a Republican committeeman agrees.
Mike Roman, who is running Trump’s election protection effort and who promoted a video featuring a member of the New Black Panther Party allegedly intimidating voters in North Philadelphia in 2008, tweeted out on Tuesday that a Trump poll watcher was “threatened.”
Not exactly, says Candido Silva, the election judge for the small district across the street from the Wissinoming Park.
Silva said the poll watcher, who reportedly had a poll watching certificate, was causing trouble when he arrived early this morning.
“He arrives here 7:20, and he says ‘Oh there’s votes already cast,’” Silva said. But Silva said he and one other member of the election board voted as soon as the polls opened because they knew it would be a busy day. As of around noon, about 200 people had voted in a district of about 500 voters.
“He’s going to claim that there’s voter fraud because I voted at 7 o’clock. Are you kidding me?” Silva said. “That’s not fair, that’s not the way you do business. ... There’s no improprieties, there’s no irregularities. You come out, you vote, and that’s it.”
Justin Blumenthal, a 38-year-old from the Rhawnhurst neighborhood in northeast Philadelphia who was assigned to the Wissinoming voting location by the city’s Republican Party, told HuffPost that he arrived at the polling station before it opened at 7 a.m. and the machine had already recorded two votes.
Blumenthal, who served as a committeeman for 12 years, said he has worked as a poll watcher in previous elections. “I’ve never had a judge of elections break the rules, so I really didn’t know how to handle that situation,” Blumenthal said.
Bob McGonigal, the Republican committeeman, backs up Silva’s account.
“He was confrontational, he was argumentative,” said McGonigal. “He was just hostile with everybody.”
Blumenthal and his associates were reportedly trying to videotape inside of the polling place. McGonigal said Blumenthal was “was interfering with the voters, they couldn’t get through the door.” He demanded the names of the election board for his report when there was a long line to vote.
“He waited until we had 30 people in line, he tried to stop the voters from ... signing in so he could get the information he needed,” McGonigal said. “He said the judge threw him out, the judge intimidated him, the judge threatened him. None of that happened.”
Voter fraud “isn’t a rampant thing like Trump would have you believe,” McGonigal said. “If anyone was committing fraud, it was this poll watcher dude, because he was stopping people from signing the binder.”
As for the reported threat with the belt, Silva said that was just a joke.
“I was talking to one of the Republican ward leaders, and I said, ‘What is it, I’ve gotta go get my dad’s belt around here to straighten people out?’” Silva said. “It was nothing, it was just a gesture.”
Silva said Blumenthal used inappropriate language with another member of the election board.
“A young man calling an older woman a bitch, really?” Silva said. “I’ll tell you one thing, I would get my daddy’s belt and just put him over my lap and just whack him a couple of times, huh?”
UPDATE: 6:35 p.m. ― At a hearing in downtown Philadelphia Tuesday evening, Judge Holly Ford ordered officials to impound the polling machine that may have recorded two votes before the poll formally opened at 7 a.m. Ford said they would try to determine when the votes were cast.
She also said that Silva could be referred to the District Attorney’s Office over the Blumenthal’s allegation that he had been shoved.
Blumenthal said Silva was “agitated” and “disobeyed his instructions to sit in the corner.” When Blumenthal asked for the names of the election board members, he claims Silva told him he had to leave.
“He said ‘No, you have to leave,’ and he pushed me out of the door,” Blumenthal said. He also claimed that other Republicans were “hostile” to him at the polling place.
Blumenthal said he is not a fan of either presidential candidate. He called Trump a “media attention guy” and said that Clinton and other Democrats in Philadelphia seem to have a disregard for the law.
“I guess it’s just that same culture of ownership, when you’re in a city that has been owned by one party for over 50 years,” he said. “There is no accountability.”
The original article has been updated to identify Justin Blumenthal as the Republican poll watcher.
CORRECTION: This article previously misstated Candido Silva’s last name as “Silver.”