7 Election Day Problems You Should Most Definitely Report
And one that you probably shouldn’t. But, hey, you really want that “I VOTED” sticker, don’t you?
The long-awaited and highly contentious 2018 midterm elections are finally here. In Philadelphia, that means 8,000 election volunteers showing up to work a 14-hour day at 829 polling places to process probably something like 1.1 million voters. Will there be problems? You bet.
Every year, there are complaints and just plain confusion, and this year will be no different. So we put together this handy guide of common complaints — including, yes, when your polling place runs out of those “I VOTED” stickers — and what to do about them. Scroll to the bottom of the story for a list of Election Day contacts for Philadelphia and the surrounding counties.
It’s 7:15 a.m., and my polling place still isn’t open.
Polling places are required to open at 7 a.m. sharp statewide. But sometimes, that doesn’t happen. Some people can just go back later. But let’s say you have to work a 12-hour shift beginning at 8 a.m. You need your polling place open on time.
During the primary in May, a polling place inside a church in Northwest Philadelphia didn’t open on time, because the janitor who had to open the building was running late. The city actually got a court order to break into the church.
“You don’t want to let anything get in the way of voting,” says Philadelphia City Commissioner Al Schmidt, whose office is in charge of elections in the city. “We will take extraordinary measures to make sure that happens, including breaking a lock.”
And Schmidt reminds voters that as long as you’re in line by 8 p.m. — the stated closing time for the polls — they have to stay open until your vote is cast, no matter how long that line is.
There’s a campaign worker wearing a Tom Wolf T-shirt while standing near my voting machine.
That’s called electioneering, and it is forbidden. There can’t be any campaign materials within ten feet of the door to the room where the voting machines are or in the room itself, Schmidt told us. In 2012, poll workers had to cover up a mural of Barack Obama inside a polling place in Northeast Philadelphia.
But people handing out flyers outside of your polling place? Some people mistakenly think that’s illegal. But it’s fine.
People inside the entrance to the building holding up campaign signs? No problem, just so they are at least ten feet away from the door to the room that holds the machines. So let’s say you vote inside of a classroom at a school. People can distribute campaign materials inside the school — just not within ten feet of the doorway of the classroom.
I’m being intimidated at my polling place.
“There are all manners of things that could fall under voter intimidation,” says Schmidt. “Some people feel intimidated because they have to walk to a slightly different neighborhood. Some people feel intimidated because of the flag on the election board table. Some may feel intimidated by somebody standing outside saying, ‘Get out of here, or I’m going to knock you out!’ There are many degrees to this, but if people feel intimidated for any reason, they should report it.”
During the May primary, some voters were intimidated by the presence of a bible on the table at the polling place. According to Schmidt, some black Republican voters have reported being intimidated by Democratic poll workers. And who can forget the infamous case of the New Black Panther Party members who stood outside of a Philadelphia polling place in 2008, one of them holding a billy club?
My polling place is out of “I VOTED” stickers!
The horror! No, there’s no law saying that the city has to provide you with an “I VOTED” sticker, but that doesn’t mean that Schmidt’s office doesn’t hear complaints when there are no stickers to be found. He says that his office does, in fact, go out to replenish supplies when a polling place runs out. So don’t worry, oh-so-politically engaged Instagrammer: You’ll get your sticker.
They’re making me show ID to vote. I thought that was illegal.
So here’s the deal with voter ID. If you’ve never voted at your polling place before — maybe you just registered to vote for the first time or maybe you moved from a different county or state or maybe you just moved a few blocks away and your polling location has changed — you need to produce ID. Otherwise, you absolutely do not.
And there are lots of things that the city says are acceptable to use as ID on Election Day. They include the following: a valid voter registration card issued by Philly’s Voter Registration Office; a valid PA driver’s license or PennDOT ID card; a valid ID issued by any Commonwealth of Pennsylvania agency; a valid ID issued by the United States government; a valid U.S. passport; a valid U.S. armed forces ID; valid student ID; valid employee ID; a firearm permit; a current utility bill or bank statement; a paycheck; a government check; or a non-photo ID issued by Pennsylvania or the federal government.
They let this old dude vote for his wife, who is too sick to come out in the rain. Is that legit?
Nope. That’s voter fraud, and examples like that do come up, says Schmidt. The guy has lived in the neighborhood for 60 years, all the election workers know him and his wife, and they all know she’s a hardcore Democrat. What’s the harm in letting him press the buttons for her while she’s home sick in bed? Well, it’s illegal.
Of course, that’s not the nefarious kind of voter fraud that we tend to hear about. Since 2014, says Schmidt, there have been 12 people indicted in Philadelphia voter fraud or election fraud cases, like workers literally adding fraudulent votes to machines at the end of the night.
The machine I voted on didn’t work right.
There have been all sorts of reports over the years of machines malfunctioning or just completely breaking down. The city has technicians who will be dispatched to fix a voting machine or replace it if it can’t be repaired quickly.
They’re telling me I’m not in the book.
Sometimes, people are simply at the wrong polling place. Sometimes, the poll workers just miss the name. And sometimes, people show up never having actually, you know, registered to vote.
All polling locations have paper provisional ballots which are to be used if it can’t be sorted out on the spot. With a provisional ballot, you must provide your name, address, birthday and ID, and the city will later determine the voter registration status and count the vote when appropriate.
So whom do I call?
If you live in Philadelphia, there are a few options.
The watchdog group Committee of Seventy runs an Election Day hotline, which can be reached at 1-866-OUR-VOTE. They can tell you where you’re actually supposed to vote (you can also just look that up yourself) and they’re also ready to take complaints.
You can call the Philadelphia District Attorney’s special Election Day task force at 215-686-9641 for things like voter intimidation, voter or election fraud, or electioneering complaints. And the City Commissioners will be on hand at 215-686-1590 to answer voter registration questions — or to deal with things like those locked doors at 7:15 a.m. and your precious stickers.
Here are phone numbers for election offices in other counties: Montgomery County, 610-278-3275; Bucks County, 215-348-6154; Chester County, 610-344-6410; and Delaware County, 610-891-4673.