As the city kicks off its annual Independence Day celebration, it’s important to remember that there is little freedom without participation. And freedom was threatened last year not only by voter-ID laws, which set up barriers to legitimate democratic participation, but also by confusion at the polls in Philadelphia, where thoughtful revolutionaries once gathered to write the Declaration of Independence. Seven months after the Nov. 6 election, three separate investigations – by Mayor Nutter, City Controller Alan Butkovitz, and the City Commissioners – have examined why more than 27,000 city voters had to use provisional paper ballots instead of voting machines. A little more than half of them weren’t properly registered or had shown up at the wrong polling place, in which case provisional ballots were appropriate. But far too many problems were caused by official incompetence.
Investigators concluded that better training of election workers is needed. Luckily, the City Commissioners, the elected officials who run Philadelphia elections, have improved training and are strengthening central controls. But that’s not enough.
According to the controller’s analysis, 40 percent of the voters who had to cast paper ballots did so “because of poll worker mistakes or errors in the creation of polling books.” These voters never should have been turned away from voting machines and forced to vote with paper ballots, which aren’t counted on Election Day and can end up being thrown out.
The commissioners blame their poll book errors on a state database “glitch.” But neither they nor state officials have adequately explained how that happened so it can be prevented in the future.