The biggest factor in provisional balloting: Errant voters

City controller Alan Butkovitz has completed the first independent review of the huge number of provisional paper ballots cast in last November’s general election, and it confirms the post-election analysis by city election officials:  Voters themselves are largely to blame for most of the situations when they showed up at the polls last November and their names couldn’t be found in the city’s poll books.

In roughly one-third of the 27,306 situations where voters had to fill out provisional ballots, a total of 9,078 cases, the voters couldn’t find their names among registered voters at the polling place because they went to the wrong polling place.  A sampling suggested that most of them were nowhere near the address where they were registered, according to the controller’s report, released Tuesday.

In 7,637 more cases ­– about 28 percent of the total – the would-be voters had to fill out provisional ballots because they weren’t registered to vote at all.  (Once election officials figured that out, from voter information on the envelope outside the ballot, the votes weren’t counted.)

Another big chunk of the provisional ballots remains a mystery – some 4,827 people were forced to fill out paper ballots, not allowed to use voting machines, because of a still-unexplained glitch in the printing of so-called supplemental polling books.  These books are supposed to include the names of voters who registered for the first time or changed their registrations relatively close to the registration deadline, 30 days ahead of the election – too late to make the deadline for the regular polling books.

The supplemental books are compiled and printed from information in the state’s computerized SURE system, which keeps track of registered voters throughout Pennsylvania.  For reasons that nobody has yet figured out, the supplements distributed to polling places last November left out thousands of voters who should have been included, and when they showed up at their polling places, they had no choice but to use paper ballots.

There were additional errors by city election officials that contributed to the high volume of provisional ballots.   Some 649 first-time voters – people who turned 18 years old between the time they registered and Election Day -- did not appear in the poll books because the city commissioners’ office failed to run a certain computer program that confirmed their eligibility to vote.

And a significant number of voters, some 4,899, were forced to vote by paper ballot because the election board workers at their polling sites were unable to find their names in the poll books – generally, failing to look carefully enough, or forgetting to look, at either the supplemental books, the regular polling books, or both.

Butkovitz made several recommendations: increasing the pay for election-board workers to attend training sessions, from $20 to $50; requiring training for poll workers at locations that had more than their share of election-day problems, and rewriting the field manual that tells election-day workers how to do their jobs. That last proposal is underway, the commissioners say.

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