Election Day sees heavy turnout, confusion over voter ID issue


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On a Pennsylvania Election Day with confusion over Voter ID requirements, it was a video of a malfunctioning voting machine in Perry County recorded by a voter and posted online that drew the most attention after it went viral Tuesday.

The machine was recalibrated and put back into service during the day.

The video shows a vote for President Barack Obama switching to Mitt Romney on the machine.

Department of State spokesman Ron Ruman called it a "momentary glitch" that was addressed when the voter brought it to the attention of election officials.

There were similar reports of malfunctioning machines in Allegheny County, said Mike Wojcik, the former Allegheny County solicitor who was representing the Obama campaign locally. He estimated receiving about a dozen such reports in the county, where elections officials estimated that 64 percent of registered voters cast their ballots.

When those calls came in, they were passed on to the county solicitor's office, and technicians were sent to the polling places to recalibrate the machines in question.

"There are a lot of people convinced these machines can be fixed. In theory, that could happen, but in practice, with the large criminal penalties associated with it, the chances are infinitesimal," he said. "These people are professionals."

Assistant U.S. Attorney Shaun Sweeney, who was tasked to take calls for the U.S. Attorney's office Tuesday for any election problems, said he had two or three such calls, which he also referred to the county.

The vast majority of the 70 calls Mr. Sweeney received related to poll workers asking voters to present ID.

Legislation was passed earlier this year requiring people to present government-issued photo identification to vote. However, after a challenge to the law, the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court ruled that for this year's general election, no ID would be required.

In Allegheny County, though, poll workers were instructed to request to see a voter's ID. If the voter had none, the person could still vote but would receive a handout describing acceptable ID for the future.

"Some people are very upset and angry they're being asked to show ID," Mr. Sweeney said. He noted, though, that he had not received any complaints that voters were turned away for not having it.

Witold Walczak, the legal director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania who battled the voter ID law, said the organization's poll watchers and call takers received a number of complaints on the issue.

"The resolution of the voter ID litigation was an invitation to confusion and problems, and that has been borne out across the state," he said.

In Philadelphia, elections officials were giving out incorrect information regarding identification.

The Committee of Seventy election watchdog agency said one of the biggest problems in the city and suburban Philadelphia counties was poll workers telling voters that they needed to have ID before they could cast ballots.

"There's a lot of honest misunderstanding, and maybe some not so honest," said Zack Stalberg, the committee's CEO. "There's a good deal of confusion."

Numerous polling sites across the region were handing out old information saying people needed ID to vote in the current election.

"There are reports from all over, both the city and the suburbs," Mr. Stalberg said, adding that his organization would try to determine whether the problems was part of any voter suppression effort.

Some polls were simply so swamped that election workers stopped asking about ID or trying to explain the plan for requiring identification next year.

Mr. Wojcik said the questions with voter ID were surmountable, and that people in Allegheny County who wanted to vote were able.

"This process has run more smoothly than most, if not all, jurisdictions in the country," he said.

Tuesday afternoon, attorneys with the ACLU were receiving complaints from students attempting to vote at Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall and Museum in Oakland.

The students, who believed that was their polling place, were being forced to vote by provisional ballot, instead of being assisted by poll workers to find their correct polling location.

There were a number of complaints received by the ACLU and the Obama campaign, as well, from students who were registered to vote on Semple Street in Oakland.

The students' names were not contained on the voter rolls -- or supplemental rolls of late registrants -- and again the students were being forced to vote provisionally, Mr. Wojcik said.

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Staff writer Karen Langley contributed. Mackenzie Carpenter: mcarpenter@post-gazette.com. Paula Reed Ward: pward@post-gazette.com or 412-263-2620. The Philadelphia Inquirer contributed. First Published November 7, 2012 7:00 AM


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