Voters report problems with long lines, confusion over voter ID law
Long voting lines and confusion with the voter ID law caused grumbling across the state as voters headed to the polls Tuesday.
Claims of harassment outside a Homestead polling place and a malfunctioning machine in Perry County grabbed the most attention. But officials said no problems were widespread.
Allegheny County officials received a complaint shortly before 10 a.m. that Republicans outside a polling location on Maple Street in Homestead were stopping people outside the polls and asking for identification.
Common Pleas Judge Guido A. DeAngelis ordered the questioning to stop, saying such actions by partisans “could have a chilling effect” on voting.
Kathleen Goldman, a lawyer for the Republican Party, said anyone who was causing trouble might have been a Republican, but was not affiliated or sanctioned by the party.
Common Pleas Judge Jeffrey A. Manning said the only people permitted to ask for ID are the poll workers inside the voting locations.
Workers will ask for photo ID, but voters need not show identification for this year’s election.
Voters have complained that some poll workers are enforcing the state’s voter ID law.
Daniel Seidling, a retired U.S. Air Force Master Sergeant from Monroeville, said a poll worker at the No. 6 Fire Hall in Monroeville would not accept his government-issued military ID and required him to produce his driver’s license before allowing him to vote.
“It was ridiculous,” Seidling said.
Vic Walczak, legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania, said his group, working with Election Protection, a nonprofit voting rights group, fielded 225 complaints as of 2 p.m.
Walczak said the number of complaints were “way up” from 2008.
He expected more complaints this year because of “the way the voter ID law was ultimately resolved was an invitation to confusion and problems.”
Election officials in Central Pennsylvania fixed a malfunctioning voting machine that was the subject of a viral Election Day Internet video, the Perry County chief clerk said.
Millerstown had a machine that registered votes for Mitt Romney that were intended for President Barack Obama, as shown on a YouTube video. County officials got a call about the machine just after 9 a.m., canceled and fixed the incorrect vote and recalibrated the machine, Chief Clerk Kathy Burkholder said.
“It was a one-time thing so far,” she said.
Some University of Pittsburgh students had to cast provisional ballots because their polling stations were moved.
By 2 p.m., nearly 20 students who tried to vote at the William Pitt Union could not vote at the regular polls, according to poll worker Anne Morrice.
“People are really upset. One girl was crying,” Morrice said.
Michael Garofoli, of Election Protection, said the confusion over where to vote caused “a couple snafus.” He said offering provisional ballots was not an ideal solution.
Typically, the county department of elections provides poll workers with supplemental lists that are updated throughout the day regarding voter information, Garofoli said. By late afternoon, university officials obtained the supplemental list and provided it to poll workers, said Ryan Mulson, campus organizer of the Pennsylvania Public Interest Research Group. That coupled with a lighter early evening turnout helped calm some of the day’s earlier problems, he said.
Poll workers documented each problem and plan to investigate them over the next 10 days, Morrice said.
Most students voting Tuesday reported no problems at the polls. First-time voter Sarah Barnes, 20, a junior psychology major, said she saw signs posted in the student union telling people where to vote.
“This is a really important election to a lot of college students,” she said. “I’d be mad.”
Manning also signed an order sending sheriff’s deputies to the polling location inside the Millvale Recreation Center for reports of threats to poll workers.
“There are 1,319 polling places in Allegheny County each one of them is run by their own judge of elections,” said Allegheny County Solicitor Andrew F. Szefi. “They’re trained to be consistent, but the degree to which they enforce that training can be difficult to monitor. Certainly, if voters encounter any problems we encourage them to contact elections court directly.”
“They’re doing a difficult job on an essentially volunteer basis and we encourage people to be patient and cooperative,” Szefi said.
Szefi said the judge of elections in McCandless told him there was an argument between a Republican and Democratic poll watcher at a polling station on Perry Highway and that the tires were slashed on a vehicle in the parking lot of that polling station.
Lines at St. Brendan’s Episcopal Church on McAleer Road in Franklin Park stretched well into the parking lot by 9:30 a.m., prompting almost a two hour wait to vote. Lisa Self, and her daughter Shelby, 7, said she waited an hour and a half to vote Tuesday morning to cast her vote at the Collier Municipal
Dave Bechtel said he’s lived there for 15 years and has never seen anything like it.
“There’s only one person in there taking names. They have eight machines and no more than three or four of them were in use at any one time,” he said.
But not everyone was frustrated.
“This is outstanding. This is the way it always should be. I’ve never seen it this way,” said Chuck Foley, who has lived in the district for 21 years.
Foley and Bechtel said they are both Mitt Romney supporters. Self said she voted for Barack Obama.
Collier Police Chief Tom Devin was directing traffic outside the polling station and said he saw many people pull up outside and turn away when they saw the line.
“I guess it’s more than they can take,” he said.
Amy Martin, 37, said poll workers asked her to show ID before she voted at the Beaver fire station, but she didn’t mind.
“I think it’s a good idea,” said Martin, who voted straight Republican, in part, because she wants to see Obama’s health care plan repealed.
Jane and Bill Elliott also were asked to show ID in Beaver. Jane Elliott said she questioned poll workers, but showed her ID anyway.
“I didn’t have a problem with it, except my picture is so bad,” Jane Elliott, 74, said.
Problems might crop up at the Elliotts’ dinner table. Bill Elliott, 86, voted for Romney and grimaced when hearing his wife tell a Trib reporter that she voted for Obama.
Both are Republicans, but Jane Elliott said, “I’m more liberal than he is.”
Although brisk throughout the morning, voting at the Jewish Community Center in Squirrel Hill slowed to a trickle by midafternoon.
Mike Goode, 41, a Pittsburgh Public Schools elementary teacher said it wasn’t the candidates as much as the privilege of voting that drew him to the polls.
“I’m just happy to be voting. Most of the world doesn’t get a chance to vote,” Goode said.
Outside the polling station a disappointed Krystal McCoy held a sign that read “Support Israel, Fire Obama.” McCoy, 24, of Moon said she had been ordered off the center property because of her sign.
David Duncan, a constable who identified himself as the majority inspector of elections for the precinct, said he took issue with that.
“I don’t care who was offended. This is a free speech issue,” he said, as McCoy stood on the street waiting for a ride.
Devin said in most presidential election years the turnout is very heavy in Collier.
Elections department directors in Washington and Butler counties reported minor problems they say accompany any presidential elections.
Larry Spahr in Washington said most issues boil down to uninformed voters.
“People are not registered to vote or change their address and don’t inform the office,” he said.
Voter ID laws caused some confusion, but department officials worked to resolve those quickly, he said.
“Some precincts had signs indicating they had to ask people for ID. We asked them to modify them so there’d be no confusion,” he said, saying problems were reported in North Strabane and Washington.
Shari Brewer in Butler said poll workers were requesting ID but not requiring it. Even that upset some voters, she said.
“Some people are confused,” she said.
Bob Gaylik, 55, of Crescent said his biggest issue on Election Day was to support candidates favorable toward labor unions. He said party affiliation wasn’t a factor in his decisions.
In addition to President Obama, Gaylik said he voted for Democratic U.S. Sen. Bob Casey Jr. , Republican state Sen. Elder Vogel Jr. and Democratic state Rep. Robert Matzie among others. Vogel and Matzie are from Beaver County.
“I’m voting union,” said Gaylik, who retired after 33 years in the Air Force and works as a custodian at Robert Morris University. “I was an ex-steelworker, too, and I just like people who are union friendly.”
Election officials at the Crescent Municipal Building where Gaylik cast his ballot were asking voters to voluntarily show identiication. Gaylik said he willingly showed his.
“I don’t see any problem with providing identification,” he said.
At polling places throughout Westmoreland County, most voters had their IDs ready to show poll workers. Signs posted at a few precincts let voters know they would be asked for ID, but it was not required to vote.
Some poll workers said it streamlined the process of checking in voters and writing their names in books.
“They have their IDs ready, and we can actually get them in the booth faster,” said Michael Klunk, judge of elections at the Unity Township precinct at SonRise Church.
At Newlonsburg Presbyterian Church in Murrysville, Obama campaign poll watcher Paula Yablonsky said that most voters handed over their IDs voluntarily.
“I’m very surprised they have their IDs out and ready,” she said. “They know they don’t have to show it. I haven’t heard of anyone getting yelled at for saying no.”
In Philadelphia, the Republican Party said dozens of legally credentialed minority voting inspectors were removed from polling places, reports being looked into by investigators with the District Attorney’s office.
State GOP Chairman Rob Gleason said 75 Republican election workers were prohibited from accessing polling places in the heavily Democratic city, prompting the party to seek a court order. The incidents, Gleason said, ranged from judges of elections refusing to seat minority inspectors to reports of Democrats saying “No Republicans will be allowed in the polling place.”
Tasha Jamerson, a spokeswoman for District Attorney Seth Williams, said the office is investigating a series of complaints regarding such minority voting inspectors. She did not have specifics on what kinds of complaints there were about the minority voting inspectors, but said the office was fielding a higher volume of complaints than normal.
Gotaskie, the Democratic Party lawyer, said he didn’t believe the numerous complaints were because the race was expected to be close.
“Everyone recognizes this is an important election … Presidential elections are important. They matter to people and people take them very seriously,” Gotaakie said. “When we wake up tomorrow, whoever wins, the American Democracy will survive.”
The Committee of Seventy, an election watchdog group, also says it’s dealing with issues of Republican inspectors being denied access to polling places in the city. The group said authorities were dealing with “a host” of minority inspectors being denied access to their polling places in Philadelphia.
The group also reported there were “You need a photo ID to vote” signs at a number of polling places in the city; it asked election judges to remove the signs immediately.
Voters who encounter irregularities at the polls can report them by calling 412-350-5466 or 877-868-3772.
The Associated Press and staff writers Debra Erdley, Tom Fontaine, Tim Puko and Rachel Weaver contributed to this report. Adam Brandolph is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-391-9027 or [email protected].