City Hall hears first-hand Election Day problems

 The city of Philadelphia on Wednesday invited people who had problems voting on election day 2012 to City Hall to tell their stories.

Starting at 4:30 p.m., a commission appointed by Mayor Nutter and headed by city managing director Richard Negrin began listening to those tales.

Of nine people who spoke to the fact-finding group, only one was a voter. The others included people who had worked to help people vote, a poll worker and a ward leader.

One of those who testified was Samantha Monroe. She said she had moved and registered well ahead of time so that she could vote in her new West Philadelphia neighborhood. Workers there told her she wasn’t in the books, so she went to her old polling place in Center City. Workers couldn’t find her there, either.

Because poll workers could not locate her name, she voted by provisional ballot instead of by machine. When she checked online and by phone to see if her vote had counted, she got a message saying her ballot did not exist. She believes it was destroyed.

But Al Schmidt, the Republican Commissioner, told the Inquirer that Monroe’s ballot was counted. He said Monroe had probably checked before updates of electronic files of provisional ballots were completed in mid-January.

Schmidt and the other two Commissioners, Democrats Anthony Clarke and Stephanie Singer, are not cooperating with Negrin’s group because they say it is not bipartisan and does not include anyone with experience in election administration.

They also say they have already identified reasons for most of the increase in provisional ballots. About 8,000 people who cast provisional ballots were either not registered to vote in Philadelphia or not at all. And additional 10,000 went to the wrong polling place. The city moved more than one-third of tis 1,687 polling places in the last few years, in part to comply with laws requiring that voting places be handicapped accessible.

An additional 4,000 were in the polling books or supplemental sheets but poll workers could not locate them. The Commissioners are trying to improve worker training to deal with this but can't force those who work the polls to attend such sessions. Commissioners are still seeking more information from the state of Pennsylvania to determine why the remaining 5,000 voters who registered do not appear in the voter database that the state maintains.

To read Singer's report on provisional ballots, go here

Negrin said he remains hopeful that as the process moves forward, the Commissioners will see that his group is acting “with integrity” and agree to cooperate.

Carol Jenkins, leader of the 27th ward, said she tried multiple times to reach the City Commissioners office Nov. 6 to discuss concerns about why some registered voters were missing from poll books. She was unable to get through.

“The lines were busy all day,” she said.

It takes longer to cast a provisional ballot than to vote by machine, which led to long waits on election day, Jenkins said.

“We had a line out the door,” she said.

She said that provisional ballots are outdated and told Negrin’s group that it should seek a more modern, efficient option to when voters are not in polling books. She and others at some polling places were able to check the state database to see whether voters were registered, but they were not allowed to use that to let people vote by machine.

“Get rid of provisional ballots,” she said.


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