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Nazareth, Pa., United States

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

One Lehigh County Poll Watcher's Experience

According to Northampton County Council member Charles Dertinger, those long lines last Tuesday that kept you from voting in three minutes are all County Exec John Stoffa's fault. Those long lines you saw in Ohio and Florida and everywhere else are probably Stoffa's fault, too. At last week's council meeting, Hangman Dertinger has already proclaimed Northampton County's election as a "screw up of epic proportion." Never mind that all the information he releases to support his claim is totally bogus. One of his goons is already demanding the head of voting registrar Howie Erney, disparaged as little more than a "machine mechanic."

Righty oh, Charles, righty oh.

The truth is that, for such a large turnout, that machine mechanic ran a pretty smooth election. This is not to say there were no problems. Believe it or not, there were even a few problems in Lehigh County. Poll watcher Dick Nepon has sent me his election day experience with a Judge of Elections who thinks she is Queen Elizabeth. He's asked me what he should do.

That's simple, Dick. File a complaint against John Stoffa. I'm pretty sure it's all his fault. If you have a better suggestion, read Dick's dirge.

I was an election poll watcher in Lehigh County (as I have been for longer than I can recall). This election I was assigned Lower Macungie District #2. I thought it would be a sleeper, but I was mistaken. When I arrived at 6:30AM there was already a long line out to the parking lot. Inside were 10 voting machines being set up. I introduced myself to the Judge of Elections. I inquired to see about the 'zero' tapes, to see them and asked if they were signed. I was rudely instructed that they were sealed in the machines. I asked if they were signed, and was told that she signs them at the end of the election. I suggested that that defeats the purpose, and that I was entitled to see the tapes, but she refused. I made my first call to the voter protection office.

As it turns out, the number I had was a wrong number. I called the local Dem office, and was given a correct number, but that number required an eight digit voting district to proceed on the voice answering system. I had no number. I called back and reported to the local office.

Shortly, the first missing name on the books showed up. This gentleman had waited two hours (one before we opened) to get in and vote, but although he had a voter registration card with his name on it for this district, his name was not in their book. The Judge of Elections attempted to contact the County Voter Registration office, but all lines were busy. She tried for over an hour, then got through and says she was instructed to offer the gentleman a provisional ballot. When I saw him filling that out I approached and heard his story. I suggested that since he had a valid card, and was also on the rolls at the county, he was entitled to a machine vote. I advised him not to hand in the provisional ballot. The Judge of Elections was incensed. While we argued the proper use of provisional ballots, someone found his name mis-filed and he did get to vote by machine, but the underlying problem was not addressed.

The next problem was another voter with a card but no listing. The Judge again could not get through to the County, and refused to issue a provisional ballot without express permission from the County Clerk of Elections (Sterner). I suggested to her that she did not need permission.

This charade went on for a while, with a few different people some of whom had registration cards, some didn't. All were adamant about wanting to vote, but needing to get to work after standing in line for a while. I advocated for machine vote for people who were on the County roll, and had registration cards, and for provisional ballots for those who had no proof of where they were to vote. The Judge told me to stop bothering voters. She instructed me to stop talking to voters. She informed me that I was a poll WATCHER, and my job was to watch, not talk. I informed her that my job was to protect the voting rights of every individual, and to make certain that no one was disenfranchised. She ordered me to leave the polling place, and called for a constable to evict me. She said that that she had her orders and she had her rules and that what I said (or showed her in writing, I had the voting act with me) were of no regard.

The constable refused to evict me. The voter protection lawyers showed up and talked with her. She agreed to allow any voter to talk with me before she either refused them a vote, or forced them to use a provisional vote, but I would have to discuss this outside with the voter. In the event, she actually hid all questionable voters from me and refused to cooperate. I don't know how many people lost their vote that day. I have names and contact info for five people before the lawyers arrived.

I have filled out paperwork to address this issue at the county level, but am not sure where to take it. I suppose the Clerk of Elections, but I feel that she was the source of bad advice to this Judge.

By the way, that district voted in favor of McCain. I don't care how you vote, I care that you get a chance to cast a ballot that counts.

I think the actions of this Judge were criminal. I wonder how many other districts had similar problems that escaped detection. I wonder how many provisional ballots were cast in Lehigh County, and I wonder how many people never got to vote.

I also ran across a republican poll watcher in my voting district (Allentown 11-4) who was challenging all the Muhlenberg College students' registrations, and slowing the line down to where there was a 2.5 hour wait. Inside were 4 voting machines, but they stood empty most of the time, and only one was actually used most of the time. Since that matter had already been decided by the courts, I deemed this a tactic to cause long lines and waits and discourage voters from voting. I informed the voter protection people, and I understand he was removed and the lines began to move swiftly.

I also had the experience of anti-abortion, anti Obama protesters haranguing the voters in line at Lower Macungie 2, and they were informed, eventually, that they could silently stand 10' from the polling place, but it was illegal for them to annoy the voters in line. They chose to leave and I found them in my home district, across the street, but quiet when I went to vote.


Anonymous said...

I have a suggestion. You sound like a royal pain in the arse. I'm surprised someone didn't throw you out. I hope they gave you cheese because you brought plenty of whineee!!

dick nepon said...

I would suggest that those whose voting rights I preserved would feel otherwise to 2:26 AM's useless whine. At least my whine accomplished something. Did you lose a day's pay recently to work for the common good? Or do you just stay up late to complain about those who do?

Anonymous said...

You can tell who is up for election this year, when you read who Bernie is ragging on. Must be Charles Dertinger. You have a good topic, protecting voters rights, and you pervert it into an attack on a County Councilman.
Now that "Slam-a Sam-athon" is over, you need a new target, is that it?
So what's this, "Chuck-a Charles", or will you start an "Pulverize Pawlowski" campaign?

I'm waiting for the picture of one of your targets getting an endorsement from a three headed alien, or taking bribes from Satan.
That's what this blog is, the birdcage liner of blogs.

All Crap, no substance. Yaaaaawn.

Anonymous said...

Hey here is an idea since you continue to try to smear Dertinger's reasonable questions about this past election and defend Stoffa's failure to do as many other counties have done, maybe a name change for your blog would help. I Love Stoffa & Hate Dertinger. You are sadly obsessed.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Comrade Charles made deliberastely misleading statements concerning a relatively smooth election, considering the turnout. He made these false statements as part of his own partisan attempt to get Stoffa. One of his goons is already slamming the Registrar as a "machine mechanic." What I've written is, unfortunately, all too true.

Maybe it's just me, but I get upset when an elected public official deliberately lies and distorts the truth. Dertinger did that concerning a Steve Barron audit report a few months ago, and now he's doing it concerning the election. It should be pointed out. It might annoy "Bored in Bath," but only because it is exposing Dertinger as the faithless politician he is.

The purpose of this post is to demonstrate that there will always be problems, even in Lehigh County.

Anonymous said...

I was at Lower Macungie 2 and am writing to confirm Dick Nepon's story. I witnessed the diatribe the judge of elections unleased on him. She was loud, overbearing, and way out of line. The folks in line with me were pretty disgusted.
Also, the pro-life protesters were pretty obnoxious as well. They kept saying things like "it is a free country at least until Obama gets in" which was a statement whose logic I failed to follow.

For the record, I am a Republican who voted for a Democrat for President for the first time in my life. And Lower Mac 2 did go to McCain but it was reasonably close which is really a victory for Obama in that district. Must be a lot of folks like me fed up with the facists who have hijacked our party.

Anonymous said...

berine how many times do you have to suck up to stoffa??? does he have some interesting pics of you that your affraid will get out?

WhetherVain said...

Although I would have been able to display properly completed paperwork, tapes,...whatever, satisfying a poll watcher's request while conducting (or preparing to conduct) an election can be a nerve-racking and anxiety laden exercise. Some Judges view it as an intrusion (Dick Nepon's case). That being said however, I realize that it is part of the overall oversight process. Personal chemistry, mutual cooperation and understanding play a role here too.

I also had a poll watcher who was just as friendly as he needed to be but was serious about carrying out his duties. I met every one of his requests to his satisfaction or to the best of my ability.

Although I perceive less tension when there are no poll watchers, I find the best policy is to cooperate with them if they are there - and get along, after all, we're all there for the same purpose - to insure the people's right to vote in a proper way.

Let it also be said that there is a myriad of seemingly inane paperwork that all election board members need to fill out - some in duplicate, some in triplicate, some in [whatever the next highest increment is]. On a slow Primary election day a few years ago, I counted 36 places where my signature alone was required; one document (Election Officer's oath) required me to sign 5 times! That form must be completed twice! (10 total signatures of mine for that one document). This same document requires an equal number of signature from EACH of the other election board members too.

My personal opinion is that some of this paperwork is steeped in tradition and should be reviewed/revamped for "modernization". (Up until a few years ago, we even still got WAX STICKS which were used to affix the royal seal or something! :-)

I state all this only to demonstrate that I can have some sympathy for an Election crew that may not have been able to get "all their I's dotted and T's crossed" at the right time. Is it important that they follow these stated procedures? YES. Will the outcome of the election be significantly altered if they don't? I don't think so.

When the day was over, the Poll Watcher paid us (the Election board) the highest compliment in saying that we ran a well executed and proper election.

Personal chemistry, cooperation, understanding. Commodities that can be hard to come by when long voting lines shorten tempers and you have an Election Board that are fulfilling a duty that they only do TWICE a year.

P.S. Oh, and did I mention that most of us got to munch on only one donut in the morning, had 2 hot dogs for lunch and NO supper this year? The goodies that we all brought with us went mostly uneaten and were taken home untouched.

Anonymous said...

This poll watch is nothing more than a political hack. No sense for the rules of order that the Judge had to follow and was charged with. Bernie, sorry bro, nothing here with this one. Let him/her complain to the County. The Judge was doing her job.

Anonymous said...

Thank you to all veterans. This blog doesn't exist without your sacrifices.

Bernie O'Hare said...

I am thankful for my fellow vets and appreciate their sacrifices, which also make elections possible. I had off today and intended to write about it, but the death of Wayne Grube - himself a veteran - has saddened me.

Anonymous said...


As someone who has worked the polls in Allentown as a poll watcher I enjoyed this post. I could recount some great tales on this subject myself. It is rough duty in the city and in a presidential race it gets a bit strained at times. I don’t blame the election official for refusing someone access to the voting machines when their name didn’t appear in the official record(even if he had a card). Discrepancies like this are why provisional ballots are available. These ballots provide the opportunity to sort out the confusion in a timely fashion. If the person was indeed suppose to vote at this precinct that would have been determined and the vote counted.
The process is not perfect, but in the last several cycles it has become increasingly contentious. I commend Dick for being involved in the process.

Scott Armstrong

Anonymous said...

The real problem is much simpler. We are in a tug of war in a democracy - the most inefficient form of government possible.

Then, as soon as a problem arises, people start tossing around words like "fascist". That is the problem.

Mr. Nepon, I have seen endless questionable activities in Allentown. Unless they are egregious, so what.

Challenging questionable voters is not "fascist" it is protecting everyone's voting rights.

If someone can vote illegally or multiple times, does that not infringe on every other voter's rights?

Poll watching, elections judges and challenges are part of the checks and balances of our democracy.

All should work vigilantly to protect all of our rights.

And, sometimes, such efforts will anger one side or another.

But to label the other side as "fascist" is truly irresponsible and adds to the venom that harms our democracy.

Let's all grow up and stop seeking any excuse to be offended.

But if someone can not register in time, know the proper place to vote, and can't act civilly if there is a question, they are a threat to democracy. Not people who make sure that the rules are followed.

dick nepon said...

To Joe Hilliard,

The only one who brought up 'fascist' is you.

I talked about someone slowing down the process so people would be disinclined to vote, on an issue already decided by the courts.

Judging by the time of your post, I'm guessing that you are also the first post in this series. Please read my response to that and think about it before you try again to diminish the work of those who get involved.

Have you ever served in public office? Stood for election? Devoted untold hours, unpaid, to protecting your community?

The line you are in, to me, is much worse than the welfare line. Talk about a whiner!

Bernie O'Hare said...

Dick, I would not assume that Joe Hilliard is your anonymous poster simply because he posted at the same time of day as the anonymous poster.

Anonymous said...

Dick claims he lost a day's pay to work for the common good which elevates him above all of us. As I understand it, the poll watchers are paid off the books for their day's work. If the government doesn't pay them, maybe ACORN will. I guess the common good is making sure that people who aren't supposed to be on the roles are there to cast their vote.