Pennsylvania’s election systems expected to be tested under weight of heavy turn out and surge of new voters

Mary Boyle, (202) 736-5770

Barry Kauffman, (717) 232-9951

Pennsylvania’s election system will be tested Tuesday during the Democratic presidential primary as election officials brace for unprecedented turnout in a state with a recent history of voting machine problems, and where voter registration and registration changes have surged in recent months.

Some 7 million Pennsylvanians are expected to vote on paperless electronic voting machines that have a history of unreliability, and voters and election officials should be prepared, according to a report released Friday by Common Cause and the Verified Voting Foundation.

“This is an exciting opportunity for Pennsylvanians to have a voice in the process to choose our next president,” said Common Cause President Bob Edgar. “But we also know there are likely to be problems at the polls and it’s smart to be prepared.”

“Everyone is working for a smooth election, but if problems do occur, voters should report them to the voter hotline,” Barry Kauffman, executive director of Common Cause Pennsylvania, said of the election protection line, 1-866-OUR VOTE.

“Election workers must do everything they can to be sure that all votes are counted as cast,” said Pam Smith, president of the Verified Voting Foundation.

Pennsylvania has experienced trouble in recent elections. During the week of the 2006 election, Pennsylvanians recorded more calls to a Common Cause voters hotline than any state in the country.

To avoid voter disenfranchisement, the report recommends:

‘ If a voter is at a polling place where voting machines have broken down or failed to start up, he or she should not just leave, but instead request an emergency paper ballot to vote.

‘ If a voter has registered to vote recently, and his or her name does not show up on the list of registered voters, the voter may still have a right to vote. The voter should ask poll workers to check supplemental voting lists and ask the poll workers to call the county board of elections. As a last resort he or she should ask to vote on a provisional ballot.

‘ Any voter who experiences problems on or before Election Day should call the Election Protection hotline at 1-866-OUR-VOTE.

The report also recommends to election officials:

‘ Every district that uses paperless electronic voting systems should be stocked with enough emergency paper ballots so that no voter is disenfranchised if voting machines malfunction. The Secretary of the Commonwealth has recommended that election officials have emergency paper ballots equivalent to 20 percent of the number of registered voters of each party in each district. However, given past experience, election officials may want to enhance that number.

‘ The county boards of election should give reasonable and uniform instruction as to when it is appropriate to distribute emergency paper ballots.

‘ State and county election officials should distinguish between emergency paper ballots and provisional ballots, perhaps by making each a different color, since each must be treated differently in the counting process.

‘ State and county election officials should thoroughly educate poll workers about the use of provisional ballots, voter identification requirements and student voting rights.

‘ County election officials should make every effort to ensure there are enough machines at each polling place to accommodate an expected unprecedented turnout.

Click here to view the full report, An Election System Under Pressure: Preparing for a High Intensity Pennsylvania Primary. The report includes a map of election equipment used in each county, as well as a list of the types, make and vendor of voting machines used in each county.

Click here to view the demand letter sent to election officials asking for immediate action to be taken to ensure emergency ballots are properly issued and counted. The letter was sent by the Advancement Project, a national civil rights group.