Meetinghouse poll volunteers ‘accosted’ by election worker

by Tom Beck
Posted 11/16/23

The City Commissioners Office is investigating one of its employees, after he was summoned to the polling station to fix a technical error.

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Meetinghouse poll volunteers ‘accosted’ by election worker


The City Commissioners Office is investigating the conduct of one of its employees, whom poll workers assigned to the Chestnut Hill Friends Meetinghouse say “accosted” and “screamed” at them, after he was summoned to the polling station to fix a technical error.

The incident, poll workers told the Local, happened right in front of voters and left at least one first time poll worker, Kathy McCrea, feeling doubtful that she’ll ever work polls again.

“I don't know if I want to do this again,” she told the Local in the wake of the incident. “His behavior was totally unacceptable…He was distasteful, rude and very nasty.”

The Meetinghouse was last week’s polling location for all residents who live in the 4th, 5th and 17th divisions of the Chestnut Hill’s 9th political ward.

At 7:30 a.m., poll workers said they realized that the 17th Division’s electronic poll books weren’t connecting to the polling place’s internet router which was located on the opposite side of the building, and called the City Commissioner’s Office for help. After explaining the issue, poll workers say, the city employee who answered the phone hung up on them. 

“We said, ‘Do you want us to unplug all these machines?’” poll worker Martha Hill told the Local. “Then they said, ‘Do not unplug the machines' and hung up on us,” another poll worker, Ann Hartzell said. 

“Half an hour later this guy came in mad as hell” and began cursing at poll workers in front of voters, Hill said, referring to the City Commissioners Office employee. 

The employee’s name, according to a business card obtained by the poll workers and shown to the Local, is Gordon Dunlop, Jr. The City Commissioner’s Office confirmed that a man with Dunlop’s name works in its office. 

Hill said Dunlop was “yelling at the top of his lungs a lot of things that were very inappropriate and very disrespectful to the voters and to the poll workers.”

Hartzell also told the Local that Dunlop called the poll workers “dumb” and said the decision to put the 17th voting division in a separate room from the 4th and 5th Divisions “stupid.” He also threatened to call the police and the District Attorney’s office. 

“He just went from zero to a hundred,” Hill said, “and acted like a big bully.”

Next, witnesses say, Dunlop went over to a man who traditionally plays the piano for voters on election day and nearly slammed the keyboard cover onto the pianist’s hands while he was performing. 

“[Dunlop] said he couldn't touch the church's property,” Hartzell said, referring to the piano, even though “the meetinghouse gave him permission” to play the instrument.

Dunlop also used profanity when ordering poll workers to clear chairs from the polling room, poll workers told the Local. The chairs had been placed in the room to give older voters with mobility issues a place to sit. 

“Get rid of these f—ing chairs,” Dunlop yelled, according to Hartzell. “That's what he said to us about it.”

The 4th Precinct’s election judge, Courtney Malley, who was onsite for the incident, said she was afraid that the man’s behavior would discourage potential future election day volunteers.

“I have one [poll worker] who told me she’s never going to do it again,” Malley said. “I had another who left and told me she’d come back, but she’s been gone for over an hour and a half. I don't know if I'm gonna have an election board next year because of this man's behavior.”

According to Jeff Duncan, the Democratic leader of the 9th Ward, the 17th Division had “always been in a different room than the other two” divisions.

Upon figuring out the connection issue, Duncan and the poll workers said, Dunlop allegedly ordered all of the 17th Division’s polling equipment to be moved into the same room as the 4th and 5th Divisions so they all could be connected to the same router. 

“The problem wasn’t what he wanted to do, it was demeanor,” Duncan said. “He was frankly rude and uncivil to several of the poll workers, which is just not appropriate.”

Electronic poll books, which are used to check in voters upon their arrival at their polling place, were used by the city for the first time in May’s primary election. Another one of the poll workers the Local spoke with, Yvonne Haughton, told the Local that there was a similar internet connection issue during the May primary. However, that problem was resolved within 20 minutes of the city’s IT support showing up, Haughton said, after workers set up a second router in the worship room without incident. 

“There was no yelling at people, and there was no calling people names,” Haughton explained, “The kind of thing that [Dunlop] was doing.”

According to Malley, Dunlop was also taking pictures inside the polling room, something she said he isn’t allowed to do.

“I said to him, ‘You can't take pictures,’” Malley told the Local. ‘“He said ‘I can do anything I want. I work for the election.’”

When asked about the legality of taking photographs in polling places, Custodio said “photography should be limited to not show other voters who are voting.”

Duncan said that technical issues happen from time to time on election day, but he doesn’t recall ever having a situation like what happened Tuesday morning.

When the Local told Duncan about poll workers’ reluctance to volunteer for future election day work, he said he considered the situation to be an “isolated incident” and that he “expect[s] appropriate action to be taken by the commissioners.”

“The poll workers perform a really important public service in helping to make our democracy work,” he said. “We need to have them there to make election day work.”