Meadville Tribune

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May 17, 2013

County takes measures to avoid election problems

MEADVILLE — A procedures manual has been developed by the Crawford County Board of Elections in an effort to avoid potential Election Day problems.

During the general election on Nov. 6, 2012, there were complaints from voters about two signs incorrectly posted, apparently at most of the county’s 67 voting precincts, stating that voters must present identification in order to cast ballots.

In the coming primary election on Tuesday, the Pennsylvania Department of State Bureau of Elections is requiring poll workers to ask voters for identification, but voters aren’t required to produce identification, unless the voter is a first-time voter in that precinct.

“Once more, we’re doing it as a soft rollout, like the previous two elections, ” Matthew Keeler, Department of State spokesman, said of poll workers asking voters for identification. People may get free identification cards at Pennsylvania Driver’s License Centers as long as they are registered voters, Keeler said.

A problem with the voter identifications signs during the Nov. 6, 2012, election first was spotted by Meadville Terry Toomey, who serves as the county attorney for the Democratic Voter Protection Program. Toomey was one of those who saw one of the signs at his polling place at Holland Towers in Meadville before he reported the problem to the county.

Toomey declined to comment Thursday on the county’s new election procedures manual since he’s not seen it first-hand.

“If indeed work on the manual solves mistakes such as what happened on Nov. 6, 2012, so that they don’t happen, I’m pleased,” Toomey said.

In the wake of the Nov. 6, 2012, election sign complaints, Jack Lynch, county election board chairman, vowed the county would have an election policies and procedures manual in place before the 2013 spring primary that takes place Tuesday. There was no such written manual previously, just oral instructions passed down over the years by previous election boards and election staff.

“This reduced to writing what we need to do to prepare with a clear understanding, but we didn’t want to have to have 30 pages to do it,” Lynch said of the four-page manual during an interview this week. “This identifies what to do and who does what.”

Two pages of the manual describe how election supplies are to be assembled and the other two pages describe how those supplies are to be delivered to the 67 precincts.

Lynch said one of the biggest changes with the written procedure manual is a requirement that at least two designated county employees do a random sample inspection of precinct boxes from the William Penn Printing Co. of Pittsburgh, the supplier of election supplies. In addition to verifying supplies, the sample inspection includes reading all items in the sample precinct boxes.

Previously, there was no requirement that items in the election packets be read before being packed, Lynch said.

“This is not to say we won’t have problems on Election Day, but it will reduce complaints,” Lynch said, noting there usually is a voting machine or two that malfunctions each Election Day that either must be recalibrated or replaced as soon as possible by election staff.

It was not knowing what was in the precinct election supplies — particularly two signs about identification required for voters when Pennsylvania courts had ruled ID wasn’t required for the November election — that led to complaints on Nov. 6, Lynch said.

“We had to admit we blew it,” Lynch said. “We have no excuse other than it happened.”

The first sign, produced by county election officials, was reported by voters, and steps were taken by the election board to have it removed from all polling places by late morning on Election Day.

A second sign, part of preprinted election supplies purchased from William Penn Printing Co., was brought to Lynch’s attention by a voter around 4:30 p.m. Election Day when Lynch was at one of Meadville’s precincts. He removed the sign at that precinct but election officials decided not to take action to remove the signs from the other 66 polling places.

That second sign, printed on green paper and titled “Election News,” was less obvious than the first, but the first item it listed read, “New state laws require all voters who appear to vote in a precinct to provide election officials with proof of identification.”

Both signs were created after the state Legislature passed a law requiring voters to present ID. The signs were put in a packet for election workers but were not removed once a state judge set aside the ID requirement for Nov. 6, 2012, election.

There was no malice or intent to deceive by the election board, but it was just human error in not pulling those signs from the election precinct packets, Lynch said.

“We can’t make a mistake,” Lynch said. “This is the most important thing we do as (county) commissioners.”

County commissioners serve on the election board unless a commissioner is seeking election.

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