Request to extend voting hours denied (PA)
Margaret Gibbons Times Chronicle Glenside News 23 April 2008
A Montgomery County judge Tuesday evening turned down a request by the county Democratic Committee to extend voting hours by an additional hour at one Cheltenham poll for voters who could not use an electronic voting machine to cast their ballots until some 2 1/2 hours after the poll opened.
"There is a strong likelihood that some voters were disenfranchised because of the problems there and, if by staying open one hour later, just one of those voters can vote, it is well worth any inconvenience," argued Norristown lawyer Joel B. Bernbaum in behalf of the Democratic Committee.
However, Judge Bernard A. Moore said, that reasonable efforts, including the use of emergency ballots, were made to address the situation.
"Extending election hours by an hour is an extreme remedy and there have to be extreme circumstances for that," said the judge. "That is not the case here."
No one in the courtroom could recall the county ever extending voting hours on Election Day.
Election officials in Cheltenham's 4-1 ward reported problems with both electronic voting machines assigned to that polling place shortly after the polls opened at 7 a.m. There were approximately 200 people in line at the time.
The problems with the two machines were different but appeared to both stem from operator error.
One machine was improperly closed out in a manner reserved for the end of the election and, as a result, could not be re-started. A replacement machine, which had to be programmed, was not delivered until after 11 a.m.
A mechanic who arrived at the polling place shortly after 9 a.m. reported that there was no problem with the second machine that polling place workers had previously described as having gone "haywire."
Poll workers offered emergency ballots to those initial would-be voters who could not wait for a functioning voting machine or could not return to vote. However, those at the polls said the offer of emergency ballots came too late for many who were angry and stormed out, claiming they had to get to work or go out of town. Only some 60 to 70 emergency ballots were filled out.
The polls in heavily Democratic areas likely stayed open beyond 8 p.m. but only to accommodate those who were in line by 8 p.m., according to county voter services Director Joseph R. Passarella.
Passarella said he did not have a report on machine problems in other polling places but added that he doubted there were any problems that would have caused any major delays in voting comparable to those experienced in Cheltenham.
The phones were ringing all day in the voter registration office and election board with citizens wanting to know if they were registered to vote and where they should vote, said Passarella.
The major problem appeared to be with voters who were not registered as Democrats wanting to vote in the Democratic presidential primary election, said Passarella.