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Nazareth, Pa., United States

Friday, November 07, 2008

Northampton County Elections Office Under Fire . . . Again

In the wake of Tuesday's Presidential election, in which there were long lines throughout the country, the Northampton County Hangmen are convinced that everything is the Northampton County election office's fault. Council member Charles Dertinger labelled it a "screw up of epic proportions."

1) Did the county have enough voting machines? When the county used lever machines, Director of Administration John Conklin explained that the county made do with 256 of them. When the county purchased the Sequoia system, the Elections Commission recommended that the county purchase 300 of them, and that's what happened. Conklin indicated they would be doing an after action review to see how they can improve.

2) The ballot was vertical, not horizontal. Conklin explained that ballot layout is determined by the voting registrar, acting in conjunction with the Elections Commission. Council unanimously recommended that the Elections Commission consider using horizontal ballots, which are easier to read.

3) Third party candidates were located at the far right side of the ballot. Council member Cusick complained, "We're trying to keep people from considering third party candidates. I don't know if that is by design or by accident." Conklin told Cusick he will pass on those concerns to the Elections Commission.

4) Were there enough people doing the input necessary to get new registrants on the rolls? Council member Charles Dertinger claims the county had inadequate personnel to enter new registrants, many of whom did not appear in poll books. Ron Angle agreed, noting his own son failed to receive an absentee ballot and had to drive home from college in order to vote.

5) Did people get registration cards in time? Dertinger complained that many new registrants received cards right before the election, informing them they were ineligible to vote for another ten days.

On election day, I was at several polling places, some of which were overwhelmed by long lines. Lines were largest in precincts that had larger numbers of registered voters. Moreover, it appears to me that elections officials were doing all in their power to cope with the high turnout. When I visited the Litzenberger House in South Bethlehem, the voting registrar himself was there, doing everything in his power to move the lines.

Director of Administration John Conklin has agreed to address these concerns with me, and I'll share his take with you early next week.


lighthouse said...

I had absolutely no issues with voting, and I thought the new machines are so much better than the round one electronic voting machines. Those were bad.

I almost felt cheated on Tuesday that I was able to just walk in and vote at 3:30 in the afternoon after hearing of folks waiting for hours ;>) Literally, I was in and out.

Anonymous said...

Sadly, this is the result of the Stoffa Administration's incompetence. Stoffa used his own 'Hangmen' Committee made up of all Stoffa supporters to run Debbie DePaul out of her job as Registar. He then put the old machine mechanic in charge and Conklin, who knows nothing about elections and little about County government.

It is not surprising that this was a big mess. If you had any scruples O'Hare you would stop covering for the incompetence. Even your pal Angle is fed up.

Bernie O'Hare said...

"If you had any scruples O'Hare you would stop covering for the incompetence."

I just checked and I have no scruples. Sorry.

Yep. those long lines were Stoffa's fault. California, Florida, everywhere. You got him.

A.J.C. said...


I didn't have any problems, either. There was a long line, but it was just a tad bit longer than in 2004.

As Bernie pointed out, #3 also caught my attention and I discussed it with a couple of my friends. It was weird that the third parties were listed so far away from the rest of the candidates, but at least they were on the ballot. However, I'm sure that the people voting for Nader knew to look for his name.

Anonymous said...

The lines in Bushkill were an hour or more all day. At times they were two to three. This is not surprising given population growth in the township.

Post election statements indicate no intention to address this. I guess handing out political payoff checks trumps providing basic county services.

Northampton County operates like Hooterville.

Anonymous said...

We should all be happy that there was such a high voter turnout this year, which led to the long lines. Usually the public is apathetic.

Anonymous said...

Hey Bernie,
You're just lucky you weren't at that polling place in Philly where two guys held battons and kept hitting their palms as folks walked by.

Anonymous said...

There is no excuse there were less voters in this election than 4 years ago, check it out. With eveything Stoffa did to with his riduculous blue ribbon panel replacing the registrar his chief of staff getting new machines and all the claims made along the way, this election should have been smooth as silk. Again with fewer people voting...just another example of everything Stoffa touches turns to S____

Anonymous said...

Everyone knew there would definitely be election lines... I voted at the Veladrome in Lehigh County and had to wait about an hour an 45 minutes to vote.... along with about 200 hundred other people in line.... patience is very important... people of Northampton County need to stop being "cry babies" ... I don't feel bad for them!

not so casual observer said...

In reality throughout this election season, my fairly extensive contact with voter registration went more smoothly than it has in years. There were changes that made life a little more hectic for them and the folks running the elections. Could they have used more help , yes indeed and that is because they were flooded with more registration work than ususal, not an inefficancy of the personnel but a unforseen demand. The office was not perfect, but it was alot better than it has been for several years.

The only real problems at the polls were generated by some rabidly partisan Judges of Election who were hell bent on making life easy for poll watchers from their party and denying legal rights to the opposition party.

All in all given the number of people who had their voting needs handled, the numbr of people who tried to mess with the system and the relatively smooth day, I think voter registration did a pretty good job. One suggestion, a dedicated election day phone line for election officials without general public calls would make the handling of inevitable emergencies a lot more efficiant.

Anonymous said...

Anyone who voted at Faith Church in Forks was in for a real treat. There were long,long lines all day.
The election workers were fine....they made the best of a situation over which they had no control. But I have two major concerns. The long lines were intermingled among the cars already overflowing the lot. Pathways had to be made for cars pulling in and out of the lot. I think we are quite fortunate there were no accidents or cases of people being struck by cars. I voted at 2:00 in the afternoon. When I drove by at 5:30 at night, there were cars parked on the front of the church lawn, and Sullivan Trail was parked full on both sides of the road. I saw no one helping with traffic control.
Again, thank goodness there were no accidents. I realize this was a special election, but I really think public safety needs to be taken into account.
My second concern is a question for Bernie. What arrangements are made for handicapped and elderly voters. Is there a protocol if they go to the polls.
Can they go sit inside somewhere and wait their turn? Or all all handicapped and elderly just expected to file absentee ballots?
Can anybody file an absentee ballot? Thanks in advance bernie, for any info you can provide.

Not so casual observer said...

We had drivers for th elderly who took them to the polls and stood in line for them while they sat in the car or a chair. We had taken absentee ballotts to the nursing homes but many consider this a ritual from their entire adult lives and prefer to vote inperson, it is an outing for them, and having done tis with my Mother for many years, it is something I respect them for and enjoy participating in.

Also as it begain to get busy (not to mention dark & rainy) after work hours we (the GOP) went to the polls in about 8 locations with sanwiches, snacks and bottled water and offered it to EVERYONE so that they would stay in line and vote.
THe parking and traffic issues are something that must be handled by the local police,and would require having either police or fire police at thos locations, I know they did at Moore East, Star Grange and it as a big help to the situation.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Anon 11:53,

Thanks for your questions. At the time your were posing them, Howie Erney (Registrar) amd John Conklin (Director of Administration) were answering some of your questions, as well as the ones posted above. I will have a detailed post about that meeting on Monday. For now, let me tell you the follwing:

(1) Erney actually brought this up himself, thinking it might be necessary to get fire police or someone for traffic in the larger precints. It was done in one district and appreciated.

(2) The elderly, who could not stand for long periods, were escorted to the front in the morning. In the afternoon, elections officials could not see them, but an effort was made to give them priority. Voters, on their own initiative, escorted a few to the front and then returned to their places in line. Unfortunately, party poll workers could not walk inside. That's an area for improvement.

I'll have more on Monday.

Anonymous said...

Population shifts - more voters in Forks and Bushkill; fewer voters in Easton and Bethlehem - should be addressed with more and fewer polling places as required. It's a simple solution to a large part of the problem.

Lady Rep said...

Bernie, as someone who knows, it has been easier to deal with NorCo Voter Reg recently than it has in several years. The issues that have been raised are all volume and demand way beyond the norm. That is a matter of reviewing the systems that are in place.

Regarding crowded lines and traffic control, we had called Bethlehem Township a few weeks ahead of time about Farmersville School because of past problems. It seems to me that any police force with any foresight should already anticipate those situations, keeping in mind that they have stay 100 feet from a polling place unless there is a problem. The municipalities have to stay ahead of the curve. Voter Reg doesn't have its own traffic militia.

Anyone who wants to try to blame this on Stoffa is really stretching it. Gee, what a shame that so many people decided to take part in our democratic process!

Bernie O'Hare said...

Lady Rep,

I believe your assessment is that of most people I've spoken to concerning the election. But when that council gets together, they turn into a mean-spirited group with little regard for the truth.

I had a frank exchange with Erney and Conklin and will tell you about it on monday. Suffice it to say, Charles Dertinger is wrong about nearly everything he said on Thursday night.

A.J.C. said...

Charles Dertinger is wrong about nearly everything he said on Thursday night.

Well there's a surprise...

J. SPIKE ROGAN said...

"3) Third party candidates were located at the far right side of the ballot. Council member Cusick complained, "We're trying to keep people from considering third party candidates. I don't know if that is by design or by accident." Conklin told Cusick he will pass on those concerns to the Elections Commission."

Considering the job the two parties have done in Northampton County, a vote for the American NAZI party would probably be an improvement.

At least a NAZI might be a stickler for following the rules.

Something this county council could take or leave.

Brad Moulton said...

I offer this observation of Upper Nazareth East...

When I lined up at 6:45 AM, there was one line stretching out the door of the Township Bldg. Shortly after 7AM, a poll worker came out and informed us that there was two (2) lines: A-N and O-Z.

The O-Z line was about a 1/3 long as the other, but fine.

When I got inside, I routinely saw 2 out of the 3 booths completely empty. At times, all 3 were empty and waiting for someone...

I quickly surmised the problem.... There was only one person recording the voters. Between the A-N and O-Z line, there was 1 person recording everyone's name and voter number. So it wouldn't have mattered if there was a line for every letter in the alphabet - the bottleneck was that there was only one recorder.

All told, I waited in line for just over an hour. Again, that's okay given the turnout, but things could have been improved.

Now, I don't want to begrudge the poll workers, who did a fabulous job (IMHO). But next time, can there be an extra person recording the names?

Bernie O'Hare said...


You just hit on the very observation made by county officials. They never experienced this kind of turnout. Their worry was having enough machines, but they learned that wasd not the problem. The problem is exactly as you noticed yourself. In most precints, there was only one poll book and only one person taking the information.

Now, the size of this poll book increased because of the sudden surge of new voters, and that's a good thing. But Howie Erney, the registrar, is unable to remember the last time the poll book was puirged, which is supposed to happen once every 5 years. As a reesult, that book was much bigger than it should have been.

What elections officials learned is to break up the poll book and break up the lines, with one recorder for each sub-book. Once that was realized, the lines moved quickly.

In Allen Tp, elections officials figured that our on their own. In south Bethlehem's Litzebnberger house, that solution was discovered around 7 PM.

Anonymous said...

No line at Miller Heights Elementary in Beth Twp. Not sure of the problem. Perhaps the voters were taking too long reading the ballot in some of these other places.

Anonymous said...

i didn't experence a problem at all voting. in fact it was so quick i could hardly belive it. my parents who are elderly had a miner problem with the new machine it wasn't explained quite clear enough but was corrected the poll workers were wonderful.it has also been my experence that howie erney has been very helpful and does not deserve any attacks!!!!!!!!!!! he's in there trying to clean up a mess left by debbie depaul and he seems to be doing a pretty good darn job of it.

Anonymous said...

Speaking of reliability of machines, I read that in Northumberland County, machines failed to display the selected candidates on summary page when an individual voted straight ticket. The voter registrar’s office stated it was a result of a programming error and that all votes were tallied as cast. McCain edged Obama. Despite reports that voter turnout was higher than normal, less people cast votes than in the 2004 election. Out of 34,427 people who voted, only 32,311 voted for president. That is 2116 under votes for President. It seems odd to me that 6% of people did not vote for President.