City commissioner says only valid votes will be tallied
Every legitimate vote will be counted, said City Commissioner Al Schmidt this week, noting the city commissioners’ office was in the process of going over every one of approximately 27,100 provisional ballots cast last Tuesday in the presidential election.
“Every provisional ballot cast by a registered voter will be counted,” Schmidt told The Tribune, adding that didn’t mean every vote would be counted. “It’s a pretty lengthy process.”
Schmidt said it was approximately double the number of provisional ballots cast in a typical election.
Provisional ballots are paper ballots handed out at the polling place when a voter’s status is uncertain. The voter makes their choices, then the ballot is sealed - to be opened and counted later, once the voter’s identity and registration status is verified.
This time, provisional ballots amounted to about four percent of the total number of ballots cast.
Just because every ballot will be examined by city commissioners doesn’t mean every vote will be counted. Only valid votes will be tallied, Schmidt said.
If, for example, a voter voted in the wrong precinct, only those votes that apply to the precinct in which the voter lives will be counted. So, votes for certain federal and statewide offices – such as president and attorney general – would be counted, but votes for more local offices where residence is crucial would not.
“Your vote for president would be counted no matter where you live in the county,” Schmidt said. “Your vote for attorney general - all that would be counted, but more local, that depends. You can cross district lines and you’re not eligible to vote in someone else’s district.”
Officials in the city commissioners’ office are now examining the ballots to first determine if the names on each ballot belong to registered voters in the state’s voter database, and then to count the valid votes.
It is all part of the process of certifying the election, something has to be finalized by Nov. 27.
But, the number of provisional ballots has raised some eyebrows.
That fact troubled a group of state legislators and voter advocates, who last week called for an independent investigation of why voters had so much trouble casting their ballots.
“What happened here in Pennsylvania and in other states - Ohio, Florida, and in many other states is a national disgrace,” said Babette Josephs, Democratic chair of the state House state government committee, last week. “We’re suppressing the vote. The process is what counts.”
The issue hinges on two factors, Schmidt said.
First, the city – prompted by the U.S. Department of Justice – was forced to move about 650 polling places to comply with the federal American with Disabilities Act. The agreement with the feds was reached in 2008 after the last presidential election.
That could have led voters to go to the wrong polling place, or the wrong spot in a polling place with were voters from multiple precincts vote, he said.
“This happens a lot more than the public thinks,” Schmidt said. “They’re in the system, but they did not go to their polling place.”
Second, many voters reported their names were not included in voter rolls.
Schmidt was unable to say why, but added that his office was in process of investigating. In some cases, Schmidt said, voters may have mistakenly thought they were registered after signing a registration form as part of a registration drive where the documents were mishandled afterward.
He reassured voters their vote will be counted if they were properly registered.
“If the person is a registered voter and they cast a provisional ballot, it will be counted,” Schmidt said.