Questions Arise About Philadelphia Voter Registrations

[Image via wikimedia]

Advocates and election officials alike are looking for more details after a report yesterday that as many as 17,000 voters may not have made it onto Philadelphia’s voter rolls despite filing timely applications. Philly.com has more:

A coalition of state groups working toward election reform are alleging that 17,000 voter-registration applications last year were processed late, potentially leaving thousands of Philadelphians unable to vote in the Nov. 8, 2016, general election.

“Some of these applicants were not added to the voter rolls for weeks or even months after their applications had been submitted. Some were never registered at all,” the coalition, Keystone Votes, said in its May 23 report.

Keystone Votes, a coalition of 39 organizations, including the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania, Asian Americans United, and Public Interest Law Center, found that more than 25,000 voter-registration applications that were filed by the proper deadline were processed so late that those voters neither received an identification card nor appear in the main poll books. According to the coalition, 17,000 of those late-processed applications were in Philadelphia.

The report caught the city off guard, with one official saying more investigation was necessary:

City Commissioner Lisa Deeley said 17,000  sounded unusually high. She said she would have to investigate before commenting further.

“We are in business of franchising voters, not disenfranchising voters,” she said. “I am really perplexed. … We need time to verify what they are saying. Where did they get these numbers?”

The problem seems to be linked to the huge numbers of applications received at last year’s deadline – though it isn’t yet clear if the “missing” voters didn’t make it onto any list or just onto those reviewed for the report:

Deeley said that the City Commissioners Office received nearly 50,000 paper voter registration applications and about 30,000 electronic applications on Oct. 11, the deadline. After each year’s deadline, the commissioners’ staff works almost around the clock processing applications until all are completed, Deeley said.

About two or three weeks before the election, the current list of registered voters goes to the vendor that prints the poll books. Then, Deeley said, the rest of the approved voter-registration applicants go on a supplemental sheet that is distributed to the polling locations on Election Day. The supplemental sheets work just like a poll book. The voter must check in and sign the supplemental sheet, Deeley said.

Pat Christmas of the Committee of Seventy said that the late files noted in the Keystone report might have made it onto the supplemental pages.

If those applicants indeed didn’t make it onto the rolls – for reasons other than being ineligible or untimely – that’s a serious problem. If, on the other hand, those voters made it onto the supplemental rolls it’s less of an issue but still worth scrutiny in case that made for more difficulty for voters at the polls. Either way, it’s a vivid reminder of the crush of applications that election offices across the nation typically receive at the registration deadline – especially in presidential election years – and the growing realization in many states that alternatives like online registration need not only be available but well-publicized as a way to ease the burden on election offices and increase convenience for voters.

It will be interesting to see what comes of this report – in particular, whether or not the 17,000 registrations in question truly went “missing” and if so, what can and will be done. Stay tuned …

1 Comment on "Questions Arise About Philadelphia Voter Registrations"

  1. Sharon Strauss | March 17, 2019 at 4:52 am | Reply

    “It will be interesting to see what comes of this report – in particular, whether or not the 17,000 registrations in question truly went ‘missing’ and if so, what can and will be done. Stay tuned …”

    Was the report ever published?

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