Thursday, November 09, 2006

The Help America Vote Act is Not Helping in Northampton County

Photobucket - Video and Image HostingThanks to the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) shoved down our throats by the feds, we've been cursed with electronic touch screen voting machines susceptible to hacking yet leaving no paper trail. One of these machines was murdered on Tuesday by an Allentown voter convinced the machines are rigged. But one of the very few things I like about HAVA is its insistence on provisional ballots.

What the hell is a provisional ballot?

That's a way to record someone's vote when some question arises concerning his eligibility. He may have no ID, or his name may not appear on the electoral roll. He's provided with a ballot to vote until things can be sorted out. In Pennsylvania, a provisonal ballot must be provided to anyone who claims to be properly registered and eligible to vote in the election district, but whose name can't be located. And those ballots must be reviewed within seven days after the election.

But that's not happening in Northampton County.

Yesterday, I spoke with a poll worker in Palmer Township who told me he sent four people packing when they tried to vote. Their names weren't in the poll book, so he called the voter registration office in Northampton County, but no one was answering the phone! This happened not once, but at four different times during the day. When I asked whether he supplied these folks with a provisional ballot, he told me no one had asked for one.

Excuse me?

How the hell are these folks supposed to know about provisional ballots? And the Department of State clearly requires they be given the opportunity.

I thought this might be an isolated incident until I spoke with a county employee today. She is an immigrant from Yugoslavia, and has been a U.S. citizen for thirty years. She takes voting seriously, unlike many of us natives.

On election day, she and her husband patiently waited in line at a Washington Township polling place for forty-five minutes, only to be turned away. No one could find her name in the polling book. Her husband's name was located, but not hers. As she explained, her surname is easily misspelled by Americans. But she was denied the right to vote and no one provided her with an opportunity to cast a provisional ballot. And in her case, someone actually spoke to the voter registration office. Yet no one offered this voter a provisional ballot. She didn't ask for one, either. She didn't know about provisional ballots.

That's not surprising. Even FAQ at Northampton County's voter registration website says nothing at all about provisional ballots.

Governor Rendell has noted, "With voter participation in our country dropping to alarming levels, the government should not be taking action that will turn away bona fide voters from our polls." Yet that is precisely what is happening in Northampton County.

It's called voter supression. And it's not the result of some vast right or left wing conspiracy. It is the result of indifference.

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