Greater Harrisburg's Community Magazine

Homeless people recruited for election raffle scheme, denied pay by organizers

Residents at the Bethesda Mission homeless shelter say they were recruited to promote a raffle outside of polling stations today.

The offer was enticing — $10 an hour for easy work.

On election day, men eager to earn money were shuttled to polling locations across the city, where they were told to hand voters raffle tickets as they entered the polls. Standing in rain that turned to sleet and snow, the men followed all the instructions given to them by their bosses, including the request that they not promote any one candidate.

But then they were told to collect their earnings at 8:00 p.m. at 308 N. 2nd Street – the campaign headquarters of Gloria Martin-Roberts, a write-in candidate for Harrisburg mayor.

Six men enrolled in the long-term recovery program at Bethesda Mission—five of whom were interviewed on the condition that TheBurg not name them in this article—say that they are being denied the money they were offered to distribute raffle tickets outside of polling places on election day. The tickets were accompanied by a flier advertising a chance to win a free iPhone X.

Dauphin County judge Scott Evans issued an injunction against the tickets and fliers today, outlawing their distribution during the county’s investigation. The injunction ordered sheriffs to report to polling places, seize the materials, and get the names and photographs of people proffering them.

The Bethesda Mission residents said that they were questioned and photographed by sheriffs, who told them that they hoped they would get the pay they were promised. The residents also confirmed that they were instructed to report to 308 N. 2nd street at 8 p.m. this evening to collect their earnings for the day — $110 in cash for 11 hours of work.

Now, they’re allegedly being told by the raffle organizers that they won’t receive payment until the county concludes its investigation into the scheme.

“We’re just trying to get paid,” one of the men said. “We stood outside all day and I want my money.”

At 8 p.m., the 2nd street office was darkened and locked, but a group of about 10 people waited outside to collect their money. The men from Bethesda Mission, who represented only a portion of the people who were recruited for the scheme, said they did not plan on going to the office.

Many Harrisburg residents expected today’s general election to be an uneventful affair. When men appeared outside of polling stations and gave voters raffle tickets and fliers, nobody knew what to think—but everyone agreed it was strange.

“I’ve never seen anything like this,” said city solicitor Neil Grover, who reviewed one of the fliers at the 11th ward polls, hosted inside the Neighborhood Center on 3rd Street, Tuesday evening.

Shamaine Daniels, a Harrisburg councilwoman who campaigned for Judge Lori Serratelli at the Neighborhood Center, didn’t know what to make of the raffle scheme.

“Usually, my antenna goes up when there’s a quid pro quo violation,” said Daniels, who is also attorney.

The legal term “quid pro quo” refers to a transactional exchange between two parties.

“But this was just so strange, I didn’t know what to think,” Daniels said.

When county officials arrived and issued the injunction against the raffle, people at the polls worried that the men handing out tickets were vulnerable.

“That’s what worried me, that innocent people would be in trouble,” said Sherry Summerfield, a Republican Party poll watcher at the Neighborhood Center. “They clearly had no idea what they were doing.”

Indeed, some of the men at Bethesda Mission did not know who Gloria Martin-Roberts was. They were told that the raffle tickets were meant to incentivize voting and were instructed to not promote any one candidate.

“They told us there was nothing wrong with it,” one man said about the raffle scheme.

They identified at least two people by photo who helped organize the raffle. They said that Kyle Myers, who appears in a Facebook video promoting the raffle, drove them to polling places. Other men identified Jennie Jenkins, a former mayoral candidate, as someone who brought them pizza and gave them instructions for engaging voters.

Myers did not respond to a message sent to his Facebook account on Tuesday night, and Jenkins declined to comment by phone.

Bill Christian, director of the men’s shelter at Bethesda Mission, said that candidates and political parties often recruit at the Mission during elections, offering men money to distribute campaign literature.

Christian did not know that the men were being roped into a legally murky scheme or that they’d be asked to share only limited information with voters.

“I would have never let them go if I’d known that,” Christian said.

The Mission residents said that they get few chances to earn cash and jumped at the opportunity to work the polls. Many of the men are nearing the end of their 12-month recovery program at the shelter, and were hoping to use the money when they leave.

“What everyone should be mad about is that they’re ripping off homeless people,” said one resident.

Another said that he kept his raffle tickets as a form of insurance in case he is denied pay.

“If they don’t pay me I have proof that I worked,” he said.

Attempts to reach Martin-Roberts and her campaign on Tuesday night were unsuccessful.

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