By Melissa Daniels | PA Independent
HARRISBURG — The elections are over, but the discussion about voting integrity continues.
In the Lehigh Valley, problems Tuesday included: controversial signs at Easton polls, questions that made voters uncomfortable in Nazareth and voters turned away in southside Bethlehem.
House Speaker Sam Smith, R-Jefferson, told reporters Wednesday afternoon that he’s heard stories about 90 percent of precincts reporting 90 percent voter turnout.
Smith called the numbers “questionable,” but would not call them evidence of fraud.
Attempts to verify Smith’s claims were unsuccessful, but the comment alone was enough to anger state Sen. Vince Hughes, D-Philadelphia.
Hughes said he was at a number of polling places on Tuesday and so no fraud. He charged that Republican talk of voter is an attempt to marginalize Philadelphia residents.
“If they believe there was a corruption of the process, let them go to court and challenge it,” Hughes said. “If they can’t, shut up.”
State officials say they’ve received 495 complaints since creation in October of an online reporting system. Nearly 400 of those complaints came on Election Day.
Turnout statewide was around 5.5 million.
Problems cited included absentee ballots (76 reports), voter registration (69 reports), poll worker violations, voter intimidation (58 reports) and tampering with voting machines (11 reports).
The largest portion of the reports – 201 – were categorized as “other.”
“Maybe, frankly, some of these were perceived violations,” said Ron Ruman, press secretary for the Department of State. “But we’re hopeful that counties will at least take a look at it, but the ones they feel are valid, we’ll take it from there.”
Barry Kauffman, executive director of the non-partisan government accountability citizen’s groupCommon Cause Pennsylvania, said the biggest problem was people who were turned away because they did not have a photo ID, despite the fact that state courts put a stay on the law for this election.
“That clearly shows a training problem,” Kauffman said, “I hope it wasn’t malicious. Clearly there were far too many poll workers, hundreds apparently, that didn’t understand the voter ID law.”
Around 300 poll monitors from Common Cause went to precincts statewide to ensure voters were not wrongfully turned away, he said.
Kauffman says Pennsylvania’s election system issues extends beyond the voter ID law, saying there are “enormous problems” with the “archaic system.”
The machines themselves may be outdated.
“We know, for instance in Perry County, one of the machines was flipping votes for Obama to Romney,” Kauffman said, referencing a story that went national. “Those machines are getting older.”
Registration and keeping track of voters is another problem, Kauffman said. Too often, someone who has registered to vote does not show up in the registration book at their polling place and could be wrongfully turned away, he said.
Kauffman sees potential for administrative or legislative fixes, starting with the counties.
“Part of the problem is the elections divisions of county government tend to be the step-children,” he said. “They are inadequately staffed and grossly underfunded. We have to start taking elections seriously.”
Bureau Chief Eric Boehm contributed to this report. Contact Melissa Daniels at Melissa@paindependent.com.