Election Day turnout strong

Voters will be asked for ID, but for most, this is not yet a requirement


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A malfunctioning voting machine that went viral after a voter videotaped it has been fixed and put back online in Perry County.

A state official says the central Pennsylvania voting machine has been recalibrated and is back into service after it switched a person's vote from one candidate to another.

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Department of State spokesman Ron Ruman says the Perry County voter notified elections officials of the problem after trying to cast his ballot Tuesday. Video of what Ruman called a "momentary glitch" was posted on YouTube. It shows a vote for President Barack Obama switching to Mitt Romney on the machine.

Mr. Ruman says the machine was taken out of service, recalibrated and is now working fine.

In Pittsburgh, elections Court remained slow in the afternoon, although there had been complaints to various agencies, including the Democratic party and the ACLU that voting machines were malfunctioning and not registering the proper votes.

Mike Wojcik, the former Allegheny County solicitor who was representing the Obama campaign locally, said he had received about a dozen such reports.

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."

Mr. Wojcik said the voting process in Allegheny County "has run more smoothly than most, if not all, jurisdictions in the country."

Vic Walczak, the legal director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania, said the organization's poll watchers and call takers were receiving a number of complaints about polling places asking for ID.

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

Mr. Wojcik said he expected there to be some confusion over the voter ID issue, but that it's surmountable, and that people in Allegheny County who want to vote have been able.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Shaun Sweeney, who was tasked to take calls for the U.S. Attorney's office today for any election problems, said that as of 5 p.m., he'd taken about 70 calls.

About 25 of those related to voter ID and whether poll workers are even allowed to ask a voter to present it.

"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 any voters were turned away for not having ID.

Other complaints included two or three for malfunctions machines, which were referred to the county, and some about behavior of people outside the polls.

Mr. Sweeney said he had not received any calls complaining of threats or intimidation, and nothing has been referred to the FBI.

This afternoon, attorneys with the ACLU were receiving complaints from students attempting to vote at Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall 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.

Earlier this afternoon, attorneys from both the Democratic and Republican party were in elections court arguing over emergency absentee ballots from patients at various Pittsburgh area hospitals, but in the end no applications for ballots were challenged.

Common Pleas Judge Kimberly Clark signed an order tonight extending until 10 p.m. the deadline to return emergency absentee ballots collected at hospitals and institutions in Allegheny County.

Assistant County Solicitor Dennis Biondo said that Allegheny County received applications from at least 200 to 300 patients who were unable to vote in person. The process in that situation for the patient is to fill out an application, receive authorization from a judge, and then fill out the ballot and return it before 8 p.m.

"This is not a new provision," Mr. Biondo said.

Attorneys for the Republican Party are challenging how the applications were completed, collected and turned over to the county.

"They seem to be filled out by one person," said attorney Katie Goldman. "It seems to me there were folks going in and collecting large amounts of these ballots."

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Democratic attorney John Gotaskie argued to Judge Terrence O'Brien that in order to complete the challenge the Republican Party must pay $10 per application challenge.

Mr. Gotaskie argued that at 1:30 in the afternoon the applications should be approved and if there is a challenge to the actual ballot that should be handled after voting is closed.

Ms. Goldman argued that her objection is to the process, not to the actual applications, but the judge refused to hear it until the money is paid.

After more than an hour of discussion, the attorneys agreed to drop all the challenges.

In addition to this matter a number of problems have been reported across the state on a day in which turnout is good and the weather likely will not reduce the number of people heading to the polls.

Voters are casting their ballots for offices that include president, U.S. Senate, U.S. House of Representatives, and high-level state offices including attorney general, auditor general and treasurer.

While poll workers have been instructed to ask voters to provide photo identification, showing one is not yet a requirement to cast a ballot.

First-time voters and voters casting a ballot for the first time at a polling place, however, must show identification, though not necessarily photo identification. Acceptable forms of ID include utility bills, tax bills, voter registration cards and other official correspondence containing the voter's name and address.

Polls will remain open until 8 p.m. Those in line at that time will be permitted to vote.

Some confusion and problems early

Karen Gilliam, a community advocate for the 12th Ward's 8th district in Homewood, said she and other members of the African-American community received an anonymous email warning voters not to pull the all-Democratic button because it will leave President Barack Obama out, "which is not true. Most elderly vote all Democratic and I think this was designed to confuse them. I think the whole business with voter ID was a ploy to keep him from being re-elected. I think people figured if they caused some confusion people wouldn't vote, but that isn't happening."

Melissa Bancroft of Peters said she spotted an inaccurate sign about the state's voter identification law at her polling place at St. Benedict the Abbot Catholic Church. The sign read "First time voter must show photo ID."

She said she planned to call the Washington County Election Office to report the problem.

In Butler County, there was confusion about requirements for identification.

Outside one of three polling places at the Cranberry Municipal Center in Rochester, an election worker was shouting to the line of voters waiting to cast ballots to "have your ID ready," though a court decision issued several weeks ago ruled that identification is not required for most voters in this election.

Several people in the line grumbled, questioning why they were being told to ready their ID in light of that court decision.

Afterward, an elections judge contacted Butler County elections bureau director Sherry Brewer for clarification about the protocol.

She said she was concerned that the general announcement would imply that ID was required and that some people may have turned around and left before entering the polling place and finding out that the ID was a request, not a requirement.

"I advised them they should not be making any general announcements like that," Ms. Brewer said.

She explained that the poll worker was attempting to "move things along but it could have and should have been handled better."

She said poll workers were told they could ask that the ID be produced but to be clear that it was not required.

Meanwhile, turnout was high in some places.

The parking lot at the Cranberry municipal center was jammed and lines outside the polling places were forming even before the polls opened at 7 a.m.

But some polling places saw fewer voters than four years ago.

In the 3rd Ward, 2nd Precinct of North Huntingdon, Westmoreland County, Judge of Elections Robin Minkel reported a lighter turnout so far than what was seen in the last presidential election with an estimated 800 out of about 2,100 registered voters casting ballots by 1:00 p.m. today.

In the 2008 presidential election, Mr. Minkel said, the polling place clocked 300 voters in the first hour after opening, compared to just 180 in the first hour of voting this morning.

Voters line up early

Voters arrived at a steady clip shortly after the polls at precinct 11 and precinct 9 opened at Linden Academy gymnasium in Point Breeze.

One of the first in line was Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald, who has voted here for 23 years.

"I've never seen a line like this at 7:30," said Mr. Fitzgerald, noting that television images of long lines in Florida may have prompted people to go to the polls early.

These 14th Ward precincts are overwhelmingly Democratic -- and there were no Republican-affiliated workers or Romney supporters in sight.

Several voters, however, said they had voted for former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.

"I think he's the one who will pull us out of our economic troubles," said Golan Barak, 42, of Point Breeze, a plumber. "I like his business experience. I was living in Massachusetts when he was governor and he did a good job. It's going to be neck and neck. My friends and I feel the same way -- we're all blue collar workers and we're all for Romney."

Beth Prairie, 41, of Point Breeze, said she was asked by a poll worker if she had identification, and "I said yes. And she said,'May I see it?' and I said, 'No, you may not.' She them told me she needed to give me a piece of paper which says learn about what photo ID you will need for coming elections."

Ms. Prairie said she refused to provide voter ID "because I think this is a step backward for us as a nation. It's horrifying."

With a heavy voter turnout, Allegheny County Director of Elections Mark Wolosik said there have been very few problems reported.

"It's really relatively quiet," he said.

Orders issued from Allegheny County's elections court

At elections court, judges this morning issued two orders directed at polling places in Millvale and Homestead.

In Homestead, Ward 3, Districts 1 and 2, there were complaints that people outside the polling places were asking prospective voters to produce identification before even entering the location.

Judge Guido DeAngelis issued an order consented to by all parties prohibiting the action.

Another order was issued requiring members of the Allegheny County Sheriff's Office to go to the Millvale Recreation Center on Lincoln Avenue, which is District 1, to ensure the safety of election officials, regarding intimidation.

The sheriff was instructed in the order to arrest anyone who could be interfering with the election.

Mr. Wolosik has a staff of about 50 working in the County Office Building to take phone calls and work the computers.

"It's really busy," he said.

He expects a 70 percent voter turnout.

There have been few complaints regarding voter ID. Poll workers are instructed to ask to see a voter's photo identification, but if the voter does not have any, he or she is still permitted to vote, Mr. Wolosik said.

Among the complaints he received this morning, two polling places did not open on time, Mr. Wolosik said.

In West View, a judge of elections went to the wrong location, causing the poll there to not open until 7:45, and in Ross, a judge of elections was late because her ride didn't show up. That polling place opened before 7:40 a.m.

"We're depending on 8,000 people, maybe more, at 1,319 polling places," he said. "You're dependent on somebody to show up and open it. They're basically paid volunteers."

Another complaint today included difficulty in casting straight-party tickets.

Mr. Wolosik believes the confusion comes from people attempting to vote a straight-party ballot, but wanting to change to the opposite presidential candidate.

When voters want to cast such a ballot, they must review their selections, and de-select the straight ticket presidential candidate and then go through and choose, separately, the candidate they want.

The system will then review the ballot with the voter before it is officially cast.

Elsewhere in Allegheny County

There were other issues as well.

At a Chatham University polling place in Squirrel Hill, a voting machine broke down after a voter tried to press the Democratic Party lever and it clicked onto the Republican Party lever instead.

At two polling places in Lawrenceville on 37th and 46th Streets, voters tweeted about confusion about who was supposed to vote where.

At the East Liberty Public Library in the 8th Ward, no problems were reported and 100 people had voted by 10 a.m., said Cliff Cyrus, a constable overseeing the proceedings.

Jeffrey Woods, an election observer on behalf of the U.S. Steelworkers, said there haven't been any problems at two polling places in the 12th Ward at the YWCA on Frankstown Road in Homewood -- one of those on a list of 59 districts allegedly targeted by Tea Party members to check for voter fraud, according to Common Cause and a coalition of voters' rights organizations.

And near Philadelphia

With a heavy turnout across the Philadelphia region, election officials were scrambling to instruct voters on the state's most recent rules on photo identification but were giving out bad information.

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 voter 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."

Mr. Stalberg said there numerous polling sites across the region that were handing out old information saying that voters needed to produce identification for 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.

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Mackenzie Carpenter: mcarpenter@post-gazette.com. Paula Reed Ward, Karen Kane, Moriah Balingit, Karen Langley and Pete Zapadka contributed. The Philadelphia Inquirer also provided information. First Published November 6, 2012 12:00 PM


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