Voters sue Pennsylvania

October 24, 2008

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anpvoterspennsylvania

Story Transcript

Voters Sue PA, Election Official Scoffs

By Danielle Ivory

FRED VOIGT, PHILADELPHIA DEPUTY ELECTION COMMISSIONER: It’s the media that is in hysterics. I mean, the average voter knows what they’ve been, where they’ve been, and where they’re going.

INTERVIEWER: I mean, I’m an average voter. To be honest, I don’t think the media is in hysterics either. Very few people are covering this.

VOIGT: Thank God.

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VOICEOVER: Earlier this week, ANP reported that parts of Pennsylvania, including Philadelphia, experienced machine problems during the 2008 primary, which led to very long lines and voter disenfranchisement. Now the NAACP and the Election Reform Network are suing the State of Pennsylvania for not accommodating its citizens. They filed the complaint in Philadelphia federal court this morning, urging Pennsylvania’s government to provide its citizens with backup paper ballots, just in case there are more machine failures on November 4. They wrote:

TEXT ON SCREEN: "In Pennsylvania this year, an unprecedented interest in voting, a record number of newly registered voters, and a well-established history of widespread electronic machine failures have converged to create a perfect storm that, left unaddressed, unquestionably will result in the disenfranchisement of substantial numbers of citizens."

VOICEOVER: But the man charged with running the election in Philadelphia is unsympathetic to voters facing delays.

VOIGT: One line is not justification for anything except waiting.

VOICEOVER: Meet Fred Voigt. He’s the deputy commissioner of Philadelphia and the former executive director of the Committee of Seventy. The Committee of Seventy is one of the oldest election watchdog groups in the country, dedicated to promoting fair elections in Philadelphia. When asked about Voigt’s comments to the ANP, Zack Stalberg, president and CEO of the new Committee of Seventy wrote:

TEXT ON SCREEN: "I respect Mr. Voigt’s knowledge of the election process, but I am disappointed that he seems to display in the film clip a lack of concern about serious issues that could interfere with an individual’s right to vote, including the long wait that some Philadelphia voters might face on Election Day."

VOIGT: People are always going to have to wait in line. I mean, get a life.

VOICEOVER: Voigt’s comments during an interview with ANP are specifically cited in the complaint as an example of a "woefully inadequate" response from an election official. During the interview, when asked what people could do to avoid long lines, Voigt recommended getting to the polls before they open.

VOIGT: If you don’t get in line at seven o’clock and you wait until seven-thirty or wait till eight, then the line builds up and you wait.

VOICEOVER: But voters suing the State of Pennsylvania did get in line before the polls opened and still faced machine breakdowns and long delays.

VOICE OF PLAINTIFF RICHARD BROWN: After waiting for the only two voting machines to be repaired, I was able to cast my vote after waiting one and a half hours. During that time, at least 100 voters left without voting, possibly not to return.

VOICEOVER: And even Voigt argued that it might not be a good idea for everyone to show up at the same time, ’cause that could cause even longer lines.

VOIGT: If everybody comes at one time, there is no way that you can prevent that, and there’s nothing you can do about it. You’d just tell them to come back later.

VOICEOVER: And for those people who can’t wait because of work?

VOIGT: If you live in the far Northeast and you work in South Philadelphia, you’re out of luck.

VOICEOVER: On top of all of this, many of Philadelphia’s voting divisions are overpopulated. Under state law, there should be no more than 1,200 registered voters per division, but city commissioners have allowed some to plump up to nearly 3,400 voters. And recently reports have emerged claiming that Philadelphia has insufficient polling resources and could require more than 20 hours to process all potential voters. But still Voigt said that it is unlikely that the polls will stay open later or that his poll workers will work overtime.

VOIGT: How do you get those people who have been there for 13 hours to stay? They want to go home. And I got news for you: they’re going home. Unless you can serve an order like that with somebody with a gun directed at that election board, they’re going home.

HARRY COOK, VP INFOVOTER AND ELECTION PROTECTION EXPERT: It’s better to count all the votes. It may take a little more time, but this is our job, and that’s really what democracy is about.

VOIGT: This is going to be an easy election. We have to live in a real world where people unfortunately will get disenfranchised. That happens. It happens in every election.

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