More than six months after the presidential election, no one has yet figured out what made Allegheny County No. 1 in the nation for Election Day complaints. Common Cause, the Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit focused on government accountability, got 6,089 calls from our county to its Nov. 2 hotline, besting No. 2 Broward County, Fla. (a 2000 election trouble spot) as well as New York, Los Angeles and Philadelphia, which rounded out the top five. These 6,089 calls have been cited repeatedly, but what do they represent -- voters kept from casting their ballots, or merely confused about appropriate polling places?
"I don't know if we have listened to all the calls yet," admits Susannah Goodman, senior project director for Common Cause's election reform project.
"I think it's ridiculous they can't provide more information, says Celeste Taylor, policy director for Pennsylvania ACORN (Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now). But she isn't waiting for an explanation any more.
Taylor brought the group's suggestions to the Pennsylvania Election Reform Task Force in Harrisburg on March 31. They're contained in a report ACORN released with Project Vote, since both groups focus on electoral issues facing low- to- moderate-income residents.
Together, the groups say they examined 10,000 new registrations in Allegheny County prior to Nov. 2 and found a quarter of them missing from the county's voter rolls. The groups plan next to compare provisional ballots counted and not counted after Nov. 2 to voter registrations. If problems prove extensive, she says, the group will file a complaint with the state in hopes of prompting a hearing.
Among the report's reform proposals: uniform voter-registration rules, quicker processing of new registrants, more provisional ballots at polling places, looser absentee voting restrictions, and better standards and monitoring for voting apparatus throughout the state.
The governor's task force recently recommended that the state's General Assembly debate the use of voter-verified paper ballots and voter-verified paper audit trails, two forms of voting receipts necessary to keep tabs on electronic voting machines, electoral activists say. But Taylor was disappointed that the task force voted against recommending several reforms ACORN favored, including counting ballots in national races whether or not the ballot was cast in the right county. (Currently, national-race votes count only if cast in the county where the voter is registered.)
ACORN is now lobbying County Council to take its own steps. "We will be urging -- demanding -- that they correct some of the problems," she says. And they plan to have poll watchers at the May 17 primary.
"They better get ready," Taylor says. "Here we come."
ACORN/Project Vote report: www.acorn.org/fileadmin/ACORN_Reports/PA_EA_Action_Agenda.pdf
Pennsylvania Election Reform Task Force: www.dos.state.pa.us/election_reform/site/default.asp