Chaos in Philly?

As a supplement to Simon’s earlier roundup of voting-place irregularities, check out this alarming report from the Philadelphia City Paper:

The names of registered Philadelphia voters are not showing up on voter rolls and poll workers are instructing them to vote using provisional ballots, according to voters and poll workers in West and North Philadelphia. Provisional ballots are not counted until up to seven days after the election.

“We think it’s a real concern,” said a staffer at The Committee of Seventy, which monitors elections in Philadelphia. Voter ID, he says, is “not the central problem in Philadelphia today: [it’s] the messy administration of this election. The phones are just ringing off the hook. We’re fielding calls about people who are not in the polling books.”
Some poll workers are not even instructing people that they can file provisional ballots, and other voters are reportedly just walking away in frustration.

An isolated incident? Perhaps not:

The Committee of Seventy had raised concerns that the City Commissioners, elected officials who manage city elections, were not processing late voter registrations quickly enough. Seventy Director Zack Stalberg wrote in a letter that up to 20,000 registrations were still unprocessed in mid-October, “raising the possibility that potential voters will not be registered -or know whether they are registered -in time to vote on Election Day.”

And then there’s this:

The Commissioners, who have spent the year engaged in fights with one another, have a phone number with a busy signal.

I’ve been warning for a good while that polling-place chaos, whether caused by design or by incidental incompetence, can become as big a tool of voter suppression as the more obvious devices. With Romney apparently going all out for an upset in Pennsylvania, vote-suppressing irregularities in Philly are not a small deal.

UPDATE: The Columbus Dispatch has at least one report of high numbers of provisional ballots being required in that city as well.

UPDATE II: On the other hand, in Cuyahoga County (Cleveland), turnout dynamo for Obama in Ohio, voting seems orderly and over half of registered voters had cast ballots by 2:30 PM (that includes early voters, of course).

UPDATE III: Getting back to the Keystone State, turnout seems to be strong and voting orderly in the SW PA Obama stronghold of Pittsburgh.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.