Provisional ballots become issue at campus, city polls

Groups may be bringing in legal action

· November 6, 2012, 4:27 pm

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Some students were turned away or told to cast a provisional ballot at the polls on and around campus today.

Several students arrived at the polls with a registration card but their name was not on the voter rolls. Others did not have a registration card and their names were not on the voter rolls, but were listed on the Pennsylvania Department of State website as registered.

There were 17 total provisional ballots in the two districts at the Free Library of Philadelphia at 40th and Walnut streets, as of around 7 p.m., according to Alice Wells, an acting Election Judge at a division in the Free Library.

According to polling officials, there were approximately 60 provisional ballots at Houston Hall as of 8 p.m. and around 12 as of 6 p.m.

Matthew Wolfe, the Republican Ward Leader of the 27th Ward, said there were over 130 provisional ballots at around 7:30 p.m. at the Penn Center for Rehabilitation and Care at 36th and Chestnut streets, which contain the 3rd and 11th divisions.

Provisional ballots are counted within seven days of Election Day. Provisional ballots were created after the 2000 presidential election and allow voters to cast provisional ballots if they are turned away from a regular one.

The approximately 41,000 voters who registered later did not yet have their forms processed and therefore would not be on the voter rolls, according to the Committee of Seventy website.

The Committee of Seventy is a nonpartisan, Philadelphia-based watchdog group. By the time the voters made it into the database last Friday, it might not have been in time to return voter registration cards in the mail, the website said.

“It has been a nightmare … I’ve never seen anything like this before,” said Carol Jenkins, Democratic ward leader for Ward 27, which includes campus. “We might see some court action taking place.”

Jenkins believes it has probably been a larger issue for the 27th Ward than it is in the rest of Philadelphia.

Voters with registration cards but who aren’t in the voter rolls are still entitled to vote regularly, according to the City Commissioner’s Guide for Election Officers. If the names are not in voter rolls and the voters don’t have their cards, they are instructed to cast provisional ballots.

Polling places on campus have been inconsistent in their voting requirements. Houston Hall requires voters to be “on the books to vote on the machines,” Election Judge and Office of Government and Community Affairs Director Dawn Deitch said.

At Vance Hall, a voter who came in in the morning had a registration card that indicated Vance, but her name wasn’t on the rolls, said a volunteer Obama campaign polling attorney Lee Rohn. Later, voters at Vance were allowed to vote with a card or if they were on the rolls.

Hill changed its rules in the middle of the day. In the morning, they were letting voters who were not in the books but were in the database vote, according to Judge of Elections David Flaumenhaft. Later, the City Commissioner said they couldn’t.

The Free Library required voters to be on the election roll to vote on the machines. Poll workers there were given instructions to call the City Voting Commissions to check for people who thought they should be on the books. But “it was a busy signal all day,” Wells said.

“The most disturbing [incidents] were where people [had] registered and gotten their card back in the mail … but they’re not on the official registry,” she said.

Penn Democrats told students who had problems to contact them immediately for help either by phone or an email they set up solely for voting issues. The group called Election Protection and contacting the Obama campaign to look into the issue.

“If they have a valid voter registration card, it’s pretty clear they’re a registered voter and are at the right poll,” Rohn said.

College freshman Jane Meyer had a voter registration card and had checked to see that her name was on VotesPA.com. However, she forgot to bring her registration card to Houston Hall.

“They said I could cast a provisional,” Meyer said. She got her registration card and returned and was then allowed to vote.

The number of provisional ballots on campus is up from 2008 numbers, Philadelphia City Commissioner Stephanie Singer said to Newsworks WHYY, “We have some reports of people who have to vote by provisional ballot and are upset by that but we let them know that every ballot that is legally cast gets counted.”

Holly Otterbein, a reporter at “It’s Our Money” run by Philadelphia Daily News and WHYY, tweeted that Singer said there have been more requests for provisional ballots as of 3 p.m. than the office got on all of Election Day in 2008.

In the morning, a Philadelphia Common Pleas Court judge refused to order the Board of Elections to deliver extra provisional ballots. However, in the afternoon, lawyers from the Obama campaign complained that some precincts were running low, according to NBC News.

Lawyers from the Romney and Obama camps compromised on sending election commissioners to the 120 polling locations in question and supply additional ballots if needed.

Check back for more.

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