When College junior Jonathan Haskin returned his completed voter registration form to a canvasser on campus early last month, he was told that he would be registered to vote. But when he arrived at his polling place last Tuesday, he was told there was no record of his registration.
A judge who was working at that polling place offered Haskin a provisional ballot, or a ballot given to people with unclear registration status and may not be counted. Looking to prove that he’d actually been registered, Haskinchecked his mailbox. There, he found a small envelope, sent to him the night before Election Day, informing him that his registration had failed.
His social security number was written incorrectly, his name was misspelled, and his address, Harrison College House, listed the wrong street, the letter said.
“I filled out my Social Security number myself, I copied it from a primary source, I know my social security number,” Haskin huffed.
Haskin tried to do everything he could to get his ballot counted. He called three numbers for the Philadelphia Voter Registration office, none of which were functional, he said. He called the voter hotline number provided by the Clinton campaign, and while the operator was apologetic, there was nothing that could be done, he recalled.
The only bit of insight he may have received that day came from Dawn Maglicco Deitch, the Executive Director of Penn’s Office of Government and Community Affairs. Deitch did not respond to the Daily Pennsylvanian’s requests for comment.
“She told me that the city was seriously behind schedule in getting people’s registrations in, and that’s why she thought that this happened,” Haskin said. He ended up filing a provisional ballot.
Haskin was not alone in his confusion. Eight students interviewed by The Daily Pennsylvanian reported problems with their registration that caused issues for them casting ballots on Election Day.
College sophomore Joe Gehler was also left with no choice but to file a provisional ballot, though unlike Haskin, he said he had to ask for one.
Like Haskin though, Gehler registered with a canvasser on Locust, who he thinks might have been from Penn Democrats. Penn Dems did not respond to a request about how they register voters. The person who registered him didn’t tell him to keep an eye out for confirmation, he recalled, and when he arrived at the polls and found out that his name wasn’t on the list, he called the PA voter registration office several times. When the line was continuously busy, Gehler called his brother, who told him to ask for a provisional ballot, he said.
Other students were given a bit more information when they thought they registered, but still found their names to be missing from the lists on Election Day.
Engineering Junior Aliza Hochsztein also said she registered with a group canvassing on Locust Walk. She didn’t recall who registered her, but she remembered receiving a T-shirt upon her filling out the forms.
Hochsztein was told to be on the lookout for several for a confirmation online, and she did so for several weeks on the to no avail. Hochsztein heard from a friend with a similar issue who called the PA Voter Services number, that the website might not always accurately reflect who is registered to vote.
Hochsztein assumed that she could have been registered, but later learned she wasn’t on Election Day, she said. She completed a provisional ballot offered to her by poll workers.
College senior Emily Avis said she was registered by a group canvassing on Spruce Street. She was told she’d be receiving a confirmation email, and that once she’d handed in the paperwork to the canvasser, she wouldn’t have to do anything else.
At Vance Hall, the designated polling place for her address, she tried to verify her registration at the PA Voter Services website, and she found out she wasn’t registered. She was not offered a provisional ballot, and she never filled one out.
Political science professor Dan Hopkins blames much of the voter distress on the fact that in the United States, the onus to register to vote falls almost entirely on citizens, not the state. Citizens must re-register every time they change address.
The need to re-register every time a citizen changes address prevented College junior Alexa Jaume from voting. She moved off campus this year after registering to vote when she still lived on campus. On Election Day, she was shuffled to three different polling places before being given a provisional ballot, she said.
“A fair amount of voter registration is done by people who are not state actors. These are people who are part of the campaign, and while they have an incentive to collect registrations and submit them, they are people and they make mistakes,” Hopkins said.
Even if they are submitted properly, they then must go through either a board of elections of secretary of state’s office where there’s more room for error, Hopkinsadded.
College senior Rachel Freilich experienced the many sources of error in her voter registration process. She first registered to vote in September with a group on Locust.
She didn’t know her social security number, but was told that she didn’t have to fill it out on the form to be registered. A week before the voter registration deadline, she received a letter in the mail informing her that her registration had failed because she didn’t include her social security number.
She asked a canvasser if she could register online, but was told that she couldn’t. She tried to register again on paper with another canvassing group, and her registration was confirmed five days before the election.
Between the failed registration and her second try, Freilich was distressed. “I didn’t even watch the third debate because it would make me sad that I couldn’t vote,” she said.