City Commissioners' Meeting Notes

Notes from the March 25, 2009 City Commissioners’ meeting:

Petition Challenges

All but two challenges of the 55 challenges filed against individual candidates over the past two weeks have been ruled on and are either being appealed or accepted, according to Acting Supervisor of Elections, Bill Rubin. The two outstanding challenges are:

1. D.A. candidate Seth Williams’ line-by-line challenge of D.A. candidate Michael Turner’s petitions. Williams’ challenge is requiring the judge go through Turner’s petitions line-by-line to check for the validity of signatures. After eight petitions the judge has approved 906 signatures as valid. The required number of signatures to get on the ballot as a D.A. candidate is 1,000.

2. D.A. candidate Dan McCaffery’s challenge of Seth Williams’ use of a New Jersey notary and alleged misreporting of income on his financial disclosure forms. The judge has heard testimony on this and is in process of putting together a ruling.

Voter Registration and Absentee Ballots

The Statewide Uniform Registry of Electors system, ELVS, continues to be a headache for the Philadelphia Voter Registration Office. Voter Registration Administrator, Bob Lee reported that the system was taking about 5.5 minutes to process each record this morning. When he called the Department of State’s helpdesk for the system, they reported “heavy traffic” causing delays, although they only heard of one other county with problems.

Absentee ballots for voters on the permanent absentee ballot list have been going out, with the final ones going out today. Due to problems with the ELVS system, all ballots sent to military voters will have to be addressed by hand, rather than using shipping labels. Lee reported that a complaint about the labeling function not working was submitted to the ELVS help desk nearly two and a half months ago and it has not been resolved yet by the State.

The Commissioners’ Say No to Election Legislation in Harrisburg

Bob Lee brought up a number of bills in the state legislature that would potentially change the way elections are run in Pennsylvania. The first was a proposed change in election code providing for in-person early voting. Lee claimed that studies have shown that early-voting doesn’t prove to increase turnout and the bill would significantly increase the cost of running elections in Philadelphia.

To provide in-person early voting, Lee said that the City would have to set up voting centers and buy new touch-screen DRE machines to accommodate all of the different ballots necessary. The voting centers would also require the City to pay more workers to staff the centers and – as it has in other cities - could potentially double the cost of conducting an election. Commissioner Joseph Duda brought up the difficulty the City would have preparing ballots for early voting, especially with the tight schedule they now face in preparing election materials.

No-excuse absentee voting which would allow any voter to choose to vote by absentee ballot, was also brought up and Lee said he thought the cost of it would be much less than in-person early voting. The absentee ballot option would be a better option for the City, but would still cost the city more than it currently pays to run elections. Lee thought a second absentee ballot bill that would allow voters on vacation to use them would make sense but, as Deputy Commissioner Fred Voigt pointed out, would still discriminate against Philadelphia voters.
The Commissioners blasted a voter identification bill in the Senate State Government Committee. Calling it, “the craziest thing I ever saw,” Lee and detailed the inherent problems with the proposed Voter ID law, requiring all voters to show identification every time they vote, and how it would potentially disenfranchise elderly voters. The bill, introduced by State Senator Jane Orie, was tabled at the March 24th meeting of the Senate State Government Committee. 

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