Bloomberg News

Philadelphia Voting Problems Reported in Primary Election

July 19, 2012

Philadelphia Primary Election Marked by Voting Irregularities

Voters during the Republican primary election April 24, 2012 at St. George Greek Orthodox Church in Philadelphia. Photographer: Jessica Kourkounis/Getty Images

Records from Philadelphia’s April primary election show evidence of voting irregularities involving as many as 1,000 ballots, a city commissioner said, citing his own examination of voting data.

Issues raised by Al Schmidt, a Republican on the three- member board that oversees city elections, ranged from allegations of voting by seven noncitizens to one person casting two ballots. He said a closer study is needed to determine the exact number and nature of the irregularities.

“Some are clearly mistakes,” Schmidt told reporters yesterday at a briefing in his Philadelphia office. “Some are fraud.” He said he plans to work with Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams about the irregularities he turned up.

A new voter-identification law may disqualify almost 25 percent of adult residents in Pennsylvania’s biggest city from casting ballots in November, according to official estimates. Considered a crucial swing state in this year’s presidential contest, it is among several with Republican-dominated governments that have recently passed voter-identification laws.

A similar measure in Texas is the focus of a legal dispute and prompted U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to call it a “poll tax,” according to the Washington Post. Democrats have objected to identification laws as attempts to prevent poor, immigrant and minority voters from casting ballots.

“Nowhere in the report is there conclusive evidence that the new voter photo ID law will help mitigate the incidences described,” Commissioner Stephanie Singer, a Democrat on the election panel, said in a statement regarding Schmidt’s study.

ID Required

The Pennsylvania law requires a state driver’s license or an acceptable alternative, such as a military ID, in order to cast a ballot. About 9 percent of adult residents may be denied a chance to vote in November, the secretary of the commonwealth said this month, including almost 187,000 in Philadelphia.

President Barack Obama, a Democrat, won 83 percent of the city’s vote in 2008. He carried the state by 620,478 votes, fewer than the number who may be barred from the polls Nov. 6.

Requirements needed to obtain official photo identification can prevent participation by lower-income Americans, particularly those who don’t have access to transportation and who live more than 10 miles (16 kilometers) from an ID-issuing office, according to a report yesterday from New York University’s Brennan Center for Justice.

“Voter ID laws will make it harder for hundreds of thousands of poor Americans to vote,” according to the report. “They place a serious burden on a core constitutional right that should be universally available to every American.”

Access Issues

In Pennsylvania, 14 percent of voting-age residents live more than 10 miles from the nearest state office that issues identification and don’t have access to a vehicle, according to the Brennan report. The state issues the IDs free of charge.

Schmidt said the voter ID law will address some of the irregularities he says he uncovered, which included more votes cast than those who participated in a district, one person voting in place of another, 23 people who cast ballots and weren’t registered, and six who didn’t sign poll books as required.

To determine whether there were irregularities, Schmidt said he examined voting-machine totals and compared them with a state voter-participation database. In some districts, he looked at books used to keep track of voters and others that list which ones cast ballots.

Evidence that noncitizens cast ballots stemmed from telephone calls from U.S. immigration officials who inquired about whether certain individuals had registered to vote, Schmidt said. He didn’t name the officials. He said he didn’t have more detailed evidence and called for a comprehensive review of the voting after each city election.

No one in District Attorney Williams’s office responded immediately to a telephone call after normal business hours seeking comment on Schmidt’s report.

“You have one group of people who are saying there is no voter fraud in Philadelphia, and another group of people who are saying there are hundreds of thousands of cases,” Schmidt said. “The truth is somewhere in between.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Romy Varghese in Philadelphia at rvarghese8@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Stephen Merelman at smerelman@bloomberg.net


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