Friday, March 18, 2005

Election Day Analysis in PA

The PA Voters Coalition Releases Election Day 2004 Analysis

The Pennsylvania Voters Coalition (PVC) has released its 2004 Election Day Analysis (PDF). The report is based on thousands of reports from voters throughout the state to telephone help-lines. Despite national and state efforts under the Help America Vote Act of 2002 (HAVA) much more needs to be done to protect Pennsylvanians’ right to vote. The report evaluates how the election system performed in several critical areas, identifies problems and makes recommendations for corrective actions.

• First-time voters had to wait until they were at their polling places to learn that they were not on the registration rolls, since there was no easy way to verify whether the registration was complete. This problem is compounded by Pennsylvania’s failure to get the Statewide Uniform Registry of Electors (SURE) system into operation. This system would allow voters to verify that their registration was complete and accurate, and to get this information on-line, not in-line!

• Fraudulent activities occurred in which voter registration forms were withheld, and letters were received by citizens telling them that their polling places had been moved or that Democrats would vote on one day and Republicans on the next.

• Instances in which applicants failed to check boxes affirming their age and citizenship and/or the party preference box kept voter registration forms from being processed. Other voters claimed they had been inappropriately purged from voter rolls

• Asian American voters faced difficulties in registering to vote due to language barriers and a lack of translated voter registration forms.

• Pennsylvania’s absentee ballot process is confusing and burdensome to voters. Worse yet, the confusion and disputes over who would be on the ballot delayed many counties from mailing out absentee ballots. Many voters did not receive their absentee ballots in time to vote on Election Day.

• People who became incapacitated or hospitalized over the weekend prior to Election Day were unable to vote.

• Some election officials seemed unfamiliar with new provisional ballot and voter ID requirements and had not even read the information packet. There were reports of voters being asked to present an ID although they had voted in the same place for years; and poll workers not offering provisional ballots when appropriate. Some polling places ran out of provisional ballots while others had none.

• Most counties did not complete counting provisional ballots within the required three days. Some voters were unable to find out for weeks if their votes had been counted.

• Long lines at polling places were a problem, and many citizens became discouraged and left without voting. Some polls were understaffed.

• There were many reports of voting equipment being out of order and some polling places had no functioning voting machine when the polls opened.

• Too many polling places are inaccessible for people with physical disabilities. Some locations specified as accessible were not. Pennsylvania is out of compliance with a 20 year old federal law requiring polling place accessibility.

• Some precincts had no phones while others that did could not get through to the election bureaus.

Summary: In accordance with HAVA most counties in Pennsylvania will be upgrading or replacing their voting equipment this year. Many issues with the current system can be traced to inadequate staffing and training of poll workers, lack of voter information and education, and poor administration at the state and county level. Immediate corrective action is needed or these problems will only be compounded with new voting systems. Other problems can only be solved by legislative or regulatory changes.

Equal access of every citizen to the right to vote is fundamental to our democratic system. A flawed election system is discriminatory, creates lack of confidence in our electoral and governing systems, and discourages voter participation. The Pennsylvania Voters Coalition is committed to working with the Governor, the State Legislature, the Pennsylvania Department of State, and local election officials to ensure that Pennsylvania elections are a model worthy of the state that is the cradle of American democracy.

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