Philadelphia voters shared stories from last November’s election with Mayor Michael Nutter’s staff at City Hall Wednesday. The public session was part of an effort by the mayor to improve the city’s handling of future elections.
Attendees voiced their distaste for the rampant voting problems and general confusion felt by voters on Election Day.
Many Temple students experienced issues on Election Day including some who found their names left off the books at their polling places and others who were confused about showing a photo identification when they voted. A number of students had no choice but to cast provisional ballots, which were not counted until a month after Election Day.
Richard Negrin, managing director of the city, said that with over 700,000 votes cast, the city was largely successful in handling the influx of voters that came in this past election. He recognized that problems were prevalent and said the mayor had challenged his team to hear from voters and come up with solutions to the issues they faced.
Many long-time voters became frustrated by the election process when they had to cast provisional ballots, which could not be counted until well after the election was over. Some found their names did not show up on the poll books or there was no evidence they were even registered at all.
Jennifer Lan, who worked as an election official, saw an unusually high number of provisional ballots cast at her polling place. She said the city should have had a better system in place to handle the increased number of provisional ballots.
“The voter doesn’t feel like they’re casting a vote,” Lan said. “If they could at least get behind the curtain and have privacy, it would be a lot better.”
Samantha Monroe had to vote provisionally, even after showing multiple copies of her registration verification to poll workers. She said she felt she had no privacy when filling out her provisional ballot.
“It bothered me,” Monroe said. “I had to fill it out right in front of the poll worker.”
Scarlett McCahill represented Project HOME, which provided 150 volunteers to escort homeless and low-income voters to the polls and educate them on their voting rights. She had eight voters who had to cast provisional ballots, and had only recently gotten confirmation that one of their ballots had been counted, months after the election had ended.
Many attendees voiced the opinion that provisional ballots were a step behind 21st century voting technology.
Nina Huizinga worked the polls at a busy location that saw many students and first-time voters casting provisional ballots. By the evening of Election Day, they had run out of provisional ballots and had to make several requests for more.
“With the technology of today, it should be possible for it to be well-run and organized to cover all voters,” Huizinga said.
Carol Jenkins, ward leader of the 27th Ward in West Philadelphia, said she had a flood of provisional ballot and registration issues on Election Day. She called for the elimination of provisional ballots in future elections.
“Some of the polls were in cramped spaces and people had to go into the hallway to fill out their ballots,” Jenkins said.
Voters also had problems dealing with the Pennsylvania’s photo identification law, which caused confusion throughout the entire state. The mayor’s staff recognized inconsistent conduct among poll workers when it came to photo IDs.
The new law intended to require a photo ID from voters at the polls, but it was held up by a judge’s injunction a month before Election Day, which prevented it from being implemented for the 2012 election.
Lan said voters were receiving mixed messages about the new law, which led to confusion.
“Even after the injunction, I got a flyer in the mail urging me to bring my photo ID to vote. I saw the same ad on a SEPTA bus. No wonder people are confused,” Lan said.
Chi Ser-Tran, a representative of the Asian America Legal Defense and Education Fund, voiced concerns about a lack of Asian language interpreters in the November election. With an increasing amount of foreign language speakers in Philadelphia, the City Council had promised to provide language assistance in polling places, but Ser-Tran said they slid back on their promises, providing less and less language assistance each year up to this election.
The mayor’s staff acknowledged the plethora of problems voters faced in the November election, and said they strive to improve the voting process for future elections. The next open session will be held on Feb. 28 at Bright Hope Baptist Church.
Joe Gilbride can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.