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Wednesday, December 26, 2012

My Election Day Experience

The 20 December issue of Germantown Chronicle carried a column by Republican activist J. Matthew Wolfe titled "Democrats Investigate Election Problems but Avoid the Real Election Fraud." I'd been thinking for a while about writing the City Commisssioners about some aspects of my experience on the election board, but had been unsure of how to proceed or whether it would get any attention. This column made me realize I didn't need to rely on the Commissioners' interest to express my concerns. I wrote the paper as follows:

Matt Wolfe's opinion piece has prompted me to describe my own experience on Election Day, when I served as a Machine Inspector. There was a Minority Inspector at my polling place (59/21), but I have reason to be skeptical about how effectual he was. The elected Judge of Election, I was given to understand, had not shown up, so someone from another division was filling in for her.

Although she had presumably received the same training I had, this substitute Judge of Election seemed oblivious of a basic rule that is stated unambiguously in the training paper: the Judge of Election is not permitted to assist a voter with voting. The reason for this rule is readily apparent: as a partisan officer in charge of the polling place, "assisting" voters can easily be abused to exercise undue influence on their choices.

For much of the day, this Judge of Election was routinely opening the curtains for voters. While this might be seen as a courtesy, she also frequently offered (prohibited) assistance when none had even been asked for. In one case I clearly heard her assume, "You want to vote straight Democrat." When I told her she wasn't permitted to assist voters, she acted as if I were just inexperienced and didn't know what I was talking about. Eventually the Majority Inspector joined me in calling her on this, and she finally relented. She didn't acknowledge that she'd been doing anything wrong, however, and represented that she was leaving the assisting to me "now that I see you know how." I'd always known how; I just hadn't offered it when not asked. (And unlike her, when I did, I was strictly nondirective.)

For a little while the Judge of Election left to vote in her own division, and I filled in for her at the table. I observed a good bit of confusion. The Minority Inspector, who preceded me in the procedural sequence, repeatedly put the same number on two consecutive voters' cards. I don't know what partisan purpose this could have served and, as he looked past retirement age, I supposed it was innocent error. Still, the confusion and extra work it created for me were frustrating.

Afterward, it struck me as odd that, whereas the Majority Inspector had eventually joined me in taking the Judge of Election to task for her improper conduct, the Minority Inspector -- whose role would seem more logically to encompass this -- had not spoken up. It's possible she'd only "assisted" while he was out of the room, and that I didn't notice this because I was focused on what she was doing and what I could do to stop it myself; but she did it so much, he must have been absent quite a bit for that explanation to hold water.

Short of abolishing party primaries and ballot columns -- in my view the ideal solution -- the best strategy for curbing such abuses is to build a credible opposition -- one whose values are in sync with those of most Philadelphians.This is one reason I'm a Green.

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