A relatively high number of students who went to the polls today were told to cast provisional ballots.
Several students arrived with registration cards, but their names were not on the voter rolls at the poll. Others did not have registration cards and their names were not on the voter rolls, but were listed in the Pennsylvania Department of State database as registered.
Of the five on campus polling locations — Harrison, Harnwell and Hill college houses and Vance and Houston halls — 5 percent of all ballots cast were provisional, according to Executive Director of the Fox Leadership Program Joe Tierney.
Provisional ballots are counted within seven days of Election Day. Provisional ballots were created after the 2000 presidential election and are used when voters don’t meet the criteria to vote.
Across Philadelphia, the number of provisional ballots were up from those in 2008.
“This is an unacceptably high number,” Tierney said.
Voters with registration cards but not on the voter rolls are still entitled to vote regularly, according to the City Commissioner’s Guide for Election Officers. If names are not in voter rolls and the voters don’t have their cards, they are instructed to cast provisional ballots.
The approximately 41,000 voters who registered later in the season did not have their votes processed in time to be on voter rolls and receive voter registration cards in the mail, Committee of Seventy President Zack Stalberg told The Philly Post.
“It has been a nightmare … I’ve never seen anything like this before,” said Carol Jenkins, Democratic ward leader for Ward 27, which includes Penn’s campus. “We might see some court action taking place.”
Jenkins believes it has likely been a larger issue for the 27th Ward than other wards in Philadelphia.
Polling places on campus were inconsistent in their voting requirements throughout the day. Houston Hall required voters to be “on the books to vote on the machines,” said Dawn Deitch, director of the Office of Government and Community Affairs, who is also an election judge.
A voter with a registration card but not on the voter roll was told to cast a provisional ballot at Vance Hall, said polling attorney Lee Rohn, who is volunteering for the Obama campaign. Later, voters at Vance were allowed to vote with a card even if they weren’t on the rolls.
Hill College House also changed its rules in the middle of the day. In the morning, Hill let voters who were not in the books but were in the database vote, according to elections judge David Flaumenhaft. Later, the city commissioner said they couldn’t.
The Free Library of Philadelphia at 40th and Walnut streets required voters to be on the roll to vote on the machines. Poll workers were given instructions to call the city voting commission to check for people who thought they should be on the roll, but “it was a busy signal all day,” said Alice Wells, acting election judge at a division in the Free Library.
“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.
College freshman Jibreel Powell, who voted in Germantown — a neighborhood in northwest Philadelphia — cast a provisional ballot because he was not on the voter roll and the poll workers did not ask for his registration card. When poll watchers attempted to call the commissioner on his behalf, they could not get through.
Graduate School of Education doctoral candidate and Free Library poll worker Kirsten Hill saw the frustrations of students who were forced to cast provisional ballots. “I think a lot of frustration was because there was confusion over the rules,” she said.
“It’s really a shame. A lot of groups on campus worked really hard to register people to vote,” Tierney said. “It’s a shame the city couldn’t get them processed properly in good order for Election Day.”
Penn Democrats told students who had problems to contact them immediately for assistance. The student group called Election Protection also contacted the Obama campaign to look into the issue.
College freshman Grayce Hoffman had previously registered in Pennsylvania but changed her address when she got to Penn. She did not receive a registration card and her name was not on the voter roll.
“They asked me to fill out a provisional vote,” she said. “I’m really disappointed that my first voting experience had to be on this paper.”
Holly Otterbein, a reporter at the blog It’s Our Money, run by Philadelphia Daily News and WHYY, tweeted that Philadelphia City Commissioner Stephanie Singer said there had 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 Philadelphia in question and supply additional ballots if needed.
The Penn Center for Rehabilitation and Care at 36th and Chestnut streets received a refill of provisional ballots at around 5 p.m. because they were running low, according to Penn Leads the Vote.
Other confusion included voter identification requirements. The Commonwealth Court handed down an injunction on the law on Oct. 2, so voters were not required to show ID to vote. However, there were numerous reports across the state that poll workers were requiring ID, according to TribLive. The Philadelphia Inquirer reported incorrect signs at voting stations. Allegheny County officials reported Republicans outside a polling location were asking for an ID, but a common pleas judge ordered them to stop, TribLive reported.