Voters Reportedly Turned Away at SouthSide Poll
A Bethlehem councilman said the judge of elections in Ward Five at St. John's Windish Lutheran Church did not follow proper procedures for voters who aren't on the rolls.
A number of voters in South Bethlehem were forced to cast provisional ballots because of confusion and a failure to adhere to proper protocol on the part of some poll workers, according to on-site observers.
City Councilman Michael Recchiuti said that the judge of elections in the Fifth Ward was handing out the provisional ballots to voters who did not appear on the voter rolls instead of placing a call first to the Northampton County Election Bureau, which is the proper procedure.
Some voters walked away, Recchiuti said.
“We could call 10 times and all we’d get was a busy signal,” said Dick Jones, the Fifth Ward judge, pointing to a cell phone on the table where he worked in the auditorium of the St. John’s Windish Lutheran Church. “We’re swamped.”
Jones said he doesn't believe he did anything improperly.
Joe Welsh, an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union of the Lehigh Valley, said the solution should have been even simpler than the obligatory phone call. Most of the voters could have been directed to the line of polling stations on the other side of the room, where the Fourth Ward was also voting.
Many of the voters who showed up at St. John’s Windish were confused about which ward they were in, Welsh said. Poll workers should have been able to determine that anyone who lives west of Atlantic Street should have been directed to the Fourth Ward polling station.
By mid-afternoon, Welsh had obtained a list of addresses belonging to both wards. A group of volunteers with Election Protection, a nonpartisan group focused on voting rights, used the list to help voters determine which line to get on.
Other volunteers used a smart phone app to help voters determine which polling place they should report to.
“I think we’ve got things under control,” Welsh said. “We’ve got a lot of good volunteers, workers and attorneys on this.”
Most likely contributing to the confusion was the fact that none of the poll workers for the Fifth Ward voting station speak Spanish, according to Recchiuti, an attorney who was working with the Democratic Party to oversee the elections.
The Fifth Ward, on the east side of South Bethlehem, has a large number of Spanish-speaking residents.
The polling station also ran out of supplies – including the provisional ballots. Bethlehem Solicitor Jack Spirk – who leads the Democratic attorneys group -- and Community and Economic Development Director Joe Kelly showed up before 6 p.m. with more supplies.
“I think the county has been as responsive as they can be,” said Kelly, who downplayed the voting problems at St. John’s Windish. “We knew there would be a lot of voters today and that’s wonderful.”
Indeed, most of the voters – some of whom had to wait as long as a half-hour -- didn’t seem to mind.
Jose Marquez said he waited in a block-long line for two hours to vote in the 2008 presidential race. Standing 10 minutes in the cold this year was not a problem for him. “Every vote counts,” he said.
“It’s worth it to me no matter how long it took,” said Tina Hayes, who waited 20 minutes to vote. Motivated by “women’s issues,” she said she wanted to do her part to make sure things end up “in the right hands.”