Saturday, February 16, 2013

A Visit to the Philadelphia Election Board

You may remember that I had some issues, as they say, with voting back in the fall ( Since I was privileged to be going to Overseas Americans Week for AARO, I managed to start my trip in Philadelphia and had an appointment with the supervisor and legal counsel of the Philadelphia Board of Elections on Friday, Feb. 8.
The legal counsel remembered me; he's the one who had given all the answers in the former supervisor's replies to my emails.
I did not want this to be a meeting of a litany of complaints on my part; I wanted to hear what the election board had to say that might improve things all around. They were not able to tell me what percentage of registered voters were overseas voters, but they said it was a very low number, probably not even 1%. On the Overseas Vote Foundation's site, and I believe on the other online sites, when you fill out the form for your registration/ballot request, you are asked if it is for all the elections in the year or just one. I always check the box for all the elections. Also, I follow the recommendation of making my request every year, even if no federal election is scheduled, because you never know when there might be a special election (Massachusetts voters will be electing a new senator in June this year). You are supposed to be able to do it this way -- every year, for every federal election according to the UMOVA rules (And Pennsylvania has enacted UMOVA). Well, the election board doesn't like that. They prefer to receive the registration/ballot requests before each election (primary and again for the general election) no earlier than 7 to 8 weeks before the election. Anyway, that might explain why I got the primary ballot in time but had to phone in the fall to get the general election ballot.
The next problem we addressed was the addressing of the ballot I finally got. Here, I have to take OVF to task, and I bet the other sites are similar. When you are asked for your home (foreign address), it prints up on the form in US format, with the postal code after the city name. Perhaps their programmers could reprogram it so that you put in your country name first and the form would then conform to the format for entering information would correspond correctly and would print correctly. This is what many commercial business sites now do. A quick solution we came up with at the meeting was to attach self-addressed labels (with its adhesive backing intact, of course) for the board to use on its envelope when sending out the ballots. They assured me that stapling these to the form would not invalidate the form. This would put the burden of getting the address correct on the voter, who should know how to write his address.
We also talked about the fact that the Pennsylvania website for tacking your registration and/or ballot status reported incorrectly that I was not registered. It also reproted that Anne was not registered , and she didn't bother to send in the Federal Absentee Ballot based on that misinformation. It turns out that we overseas voters are not the only ones unhappy with that site. Every county in Pennsyvania has complaints about it and it doesn't matter if it's a Republican or Democrat-run county. Not only that, but it seems that many states have faulty tracking. Since tracking is mandatory for the states, they should work on improving it!
These issues also came up in discussions on the Hill during OAW, so I'm very glad I had this input. I want to thank the people I met with in Philadelphia for the meeting.

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