Who can vote? Judges differ

Joseph Slobodzian reports:

5:45 p.m.

Politics and the justice system often intersect and sometimes collide but never more than on election day. 

At Philadelphia’s Election Court today, the issue was a perennial: emergency absentee ballots and who is eligible to cast them.Those people who happened to be around for the change of shift in judges — a Democrat in the morning and a Republican in the afternoon — got a quick lesson in the difference between liberal interpretation and strict constructionism.

Pennsylvania law says people who have an emergency after 5 p.m. the Friday before an election may apply for an emergency absentee ballot.

There seemed little question the law requires a notarized affidavit by a physician attesting that sudden illness or disability prevented the voter from going to the polls.

Problem is, nowhere on the application does it specifically say the form must be notarized. Just a fill-in-the-blank line that reads: “Sworn and subscribed before me this -- day of -- 20--.”

“You have to be a lawyer or a notary to know that means it has to be notarized,” mused one lawyer sitting in City Hall’s ornate courtroom 676.

In the morning session, Common Pleas Court Judge Peter F. Rogers made it clear that he believed in erring liberally to let people vote.

As long as he was able to confirm the voter had a valid registration, Rogers approved the emergency absentee ballot request after a phone call or fax from the physician.

“I think it’s the most important thing that people can do,” Rogers said of voting before he left the bench.

Rogers’ successor, Common Pleas Court Judge Chris R. Wogan had a more conservative approach and lawyers for the Democratic City Committee and the Obama campaign quickly squared off against lawyers for the Republican City Committee and McCain in an effort to preserve the morning’s legal precedent.

Wogan agreed the application form was “misleading” but added, “The law is the law and it says that somebody needs to notarize this … I’m here til 10 o’clock if somebody wants to follow Pennsylvania law.”

One of those caught between judges was Darnel Cheeves, who came to court at 1:30 p.m. hoping to get an emergency absentee ballot for his father-in-law Theodore Young.

Young was hospitalized at Temple University Hospital since Friday being treated for clogged arteries, Cheeves said.

When he learned his application was defective, Cheeves said, he quickly contacted doctors at Temple. By about 5 p.m., he was waiting uneasily in the back of the courtroom for doctors to fax a notarized application to the court.

“I’m just praying it gets here in time,” Cheeves added.

Click here for Philly.com's politics page.