A quiet day at the polls
A few problems are reported with voting machines, campaign workers
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Wednesday, May 16, 2007. By Jim McKinnon and Gary Rotstein,
The election turnout was light, but Common Pleas judges still had to come down a little heavy at some polling places.
At least two court orders were issued to keep poll watchers and campaigners in line.
"We haven't had a lot of problems. We've gotten some calls, but mostly minor stuff," John Bacharach, a sheriff's office solicitor working election court, said yesterday.
An elected constable "electioneering" in Dormont and a poll watcher allegedly intimidating workers in Lawrenceville were about as bad as it got yesterday.
There were reports of "fighting" and "arguing" inside and outside the polling place at the fire hall at Hamilton and Braddock avenues in Homewood. Two sheriff's deputies were dispatched to the scene to keep the peace.
Witnesses said the dispute erupted because a campaign worker backing the Democratic endorsed slate, including City Council District 9 candidate Ricky V. Burgess, tried to prevent distribution of literature by supporters of other candidates. Seven Democratic candidates in all were challenging incumbent Councilwoman Twanda Carlisle.
The District 7 council race between incumbent Len Bodack and Democratic challenger Patrick Dowd also provoked tension, with some in the Dowd camp accusing a Bodack worker of intimidating counterparts outside the St. Augustine Church polling place in Lawrenceville.
"We want to be sure it is a fair and open election," said Isobel Storch, an attorney working as a poll watcher in Lawrenceville.
The court order there generally reminded all poll workers of the rules, including those that prohibit campaigning within 10 feet of polling places.
"Turnout is low, but every vote counts," Ms. Storch said. "We want to make sure every vote is recorded properly."
In Duquesne, Rankin, Braddock and North Braddock, officials from the sheriff's office confiscated cards created by the Mon Valley People Action Committee that were being handed out at polling places. The cards were copies of the official primary ballot that appeared on electronic voting machines, but they only showed some of the candidates.
At some polling places, voters had difficulty doing what they wanted with the machines. Some early morning voters at St. Gabriel of the Sorrowful Virgin in Whitehall said several machines were malfunctioning, and they had to make plans to return later.
Mark Wolosik, Allegheny County director of elections, said that from what he knew, there were fewer problems with the computers than in the November election and no major problems, but he couldn't vouch for each of the 1,320 precincts and 4,200 machines .
"It's been relatively uneventful," he said. "I think everyone did much better this time poll workers, voters, everyone but it's still a new system."
LaVerne Kozar of Baldwin Borough complained that no workers at her voting place, Leland Center, were able to guide her in how to register a write-in vote on the computer. Mr. Wolosik said he could not explain the problem, as tapping a write-in button below candidates' names should bring up a simulated keyboard to punch in letters of someone who's not listed.
"I feel like I'm thoroughly gypped," said Ms. Kozar, a 74-year-old Republican. "In the future I'm going to get an absentee ballot and do it at home."
Some voters at various precincts complained to election officials that the new machines would not permit "plunking." That is when voters cast ballots in a particular race for fewer candidates than they are allowed for instance, choosing two judges when votes for four are permitted.
Some complained that the machine made them start all over.
Mr. Wolosik said those voters misunderstood the latest feature on the new machines. At the end of the voting, voters are given a reminder that they could vote for more candidates.
Some voters misinterpreted this screen to mean their ballots had been canceled.
Some confusion was reported over whether independent voters had the right to vote on a referendum concerning replacement of school district property taxes with income taxes. The issue was on the ballot in all of Allegheny County's suburban school districts and in all but three school districts statewide.
Voters must be registered Republican or Democratic to vote for candidates, but a county elections official said any registered voter can participate in a referendum.
Kenneth Murphy, a registered independent in Bethel Park, complained that election workers at Ben Franklin Elementary School denied him the right to vote on the referendum.
"If this passes, my vote's not going to count, and that's not fair," said Mr. Murphy, who opposes the tax change.
(Jim McKinnon can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1939. Gary Rotstein can be reached at email@example.com or 412-263-1255. )