Judge says yes to GOP inspectors, no to Obama mural, at Philly polls
Voters in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware continue to turn out for Election Day today, despite last-minute polling changes brought on in superstorm Sandy's aftermath and confusion over voter ID requirements. Check here all day for reports on turnout, problems at the polls and anecdotes of democracy in action.
WHYY/NewsWorks' Jeanette Woods reports from Norristown, Pa., that Secretary of the Commonwealth Carol Aichele visited a polling place at the Norristown Library. There are reports taht polling workers are asking voters to show ID but are not requiring it.
Aichele said she was seeing voters coming with IDs ready. She stressed that she wanted "every eligible voter to be out today."
Aichele said that her office had started receiving reports of polling place problems as early as yesterday.
WHYY freelancer Tara Nurin reported from Monmouth Co., N.J., that Belmar voters have all been routed to Borough Hall. Normally there are four voting places in the borough, but officials have consolidated them all into one location.
Election officials have been working to keep voters aware of polling changes through Facebook, Twitter, direct text messaging, and volunteers in the streets. Most people she spoke to said they had been reached more than once.
"It really brings to light the concept of the town hall, the town square," said Nurin.
Common Pleas Judge John M. Younge has ordered that a mural depicting President Barack Obama at a Philadelphia polling place be covered up in its entirety.
Voting booths are set up directly in front of the mural at Franklin School in the city's 35th Ward. Linda A. Kerns, of the Pennsylvania State Republican Committee submitted the petition.
An update on the struggles of GOP poll watchers in Philadelphia:
Younge has issued a court order allowing all certified minority inspectors into Philadelphia polling places, and deputies from the Philadelphia Sheriff's Department will be dispatched to enforce this new court order.
Earlier, WHYY/NewsWorks' Emma Jacobs reported: The Philadelphia Republican Party leaders sent out 300 minority-party site inspectors — armed with court orders — to polling places that traditionally haven't had any.
These volunteers were sent out to look for voter fraud. As many as 75 may have been initially turned away from the polling places where they'd been dispatched. Republican ward leaders and attorneys are going between polling places to moderate — say they're encountering some tensions.
Denise Furey, a Republican ward leader in West Philadelphia, said it took four trips to the firehouse at 56th and Chestnut before her site inspector was seated.
She said the situation has been politically charged but attributed most of it to confusion on the part of Democratic poll workers who aren't used to seeing Republican site inspectors come in at all.
Two WHYY/NewsWorks reporters, Emma Jacobs and Holly Otterbein, who visited polling places in Philadelphia this morning reported hearing about repeated cases the names of newly registered voters being missing from election rolls, with particular problems when the new voter was a foreign-language speaker, because interpreters were hard to find.
The city commissioners reported last week that they were working through a backlog of 20,000 new registrations, with superstorm Sandy and Postal Service snafus adding to the problem. But they expressed confidence the problems would be resolved by Election Day.
"Voters are finding they're not in the poll books, perhaps because of the delay in processing registrations. In any case, there's no reaching the City Commissioners' office, which has had busy signals throughout the day.
"This is compounded in places with large foreign-language speaking populations - such as South Philadelphia. At the South Philadelphia Library, Nancy Nguyen, an AALDEF volunteer, said Cambodian and Vietnamese Americans were finding they were not in the books and not able to ask for provisional ballots.
"There are supposed to be language support cards with a number to call inside the polling place, but that's not been the case at this location."
Otterbein has seen and heard about similar problems at several sites, and is now investigating problems at a polling place in Torresdale. We'll provide her report shortly.
Meanwhile, Benjamin Herold has filed this update on the mess this morning at Guerin Recreation Center in South Philadelphia.
"One judge of elections stormed out, saying he was quitting, after a dispute over who should be signing in voters in one division of the 48th Ward.
The resulting drama was just one of the causes for voting delays there this morning.
Supporters of both presidential candidates also expressed frustration with what they described as widespread disorganization. Joe Mirarcha is a registered independent who was trying to cast a vote for Mitt Romney:
"We've actually approached three different polling places in this one area, and we've been misdirected. We've stood in line for about 45 minutes and have been attempting to vote. I think there's total confusion."
Frustrated South Philly resident Frank Turner said his supplemental ballot had not yet arrived at the polling place, so he was told he'd have to come back later to cast his vote for Barack Obama:
"I heard some people complaining about how disorganized it was here, and I chuckled and thought it was funny until it happened to me."
NewsWorks reader Walter High offers a second voter report of problems at Delaware County polls with identification requirements for first-time voters being misstated. (See 11:30 a.m. post further down for report from Strath Haven High School).
High says: "There's confusion at Delaware County polls about the requirements for 'First Time Voters.' My wife and I are new residents. At our polling place, we were told we must show Photo ID to vote. Having just read the law, I offered recent utility bills and voter registration form in lieu of a photo ID. They told me that would NOT suffice. They did allow us to vote, once we showed them the law. But they noted that the County board had told them to use provisional ballots in earlier incidents."
NewsWorks' Brian Hickey, who's all over the map today checking out election doings, reports that U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah, never a fan of Pennsylvania's voter ID law, proved it today:
"Fattah did not bring ID when he voted today. Was told he'd need to in future elections. When I asked him about it after voting, he argued that having voted for Presidents Carter, Clinton and Obama in 'a place where the neighbors know you,' and signing a book stating you are who you say you are 'should be sufficient.'"
When Republican poll watchers venture into some heavily Democratic wards in Philadelphia on Election Day, they see the dardnest things.
The Republican State Committee just circulated via email, without comment, a photo of what it says is a polling place at Ben Franklin Elementary School in Lawncrest, where the wall of the all-purpose room where balloting is taking place today features a huge color mural of Barack Obama, with the words "Hope" and "Change" and Obama's 2008 campaign logo.
Yes, on a day when some voters are getting hassled for wearing T-shirts with campaign slogans to the polls, it would have been nice is somone had thought to cover up the mural for the election.
A report from WHYY/NewsWorks' Alan Tu in Mercer County:
At mid-morning, cars were circling around the designated parking for a temporary polling station set up on Princeton University's campus.
Seven voting districts that affected by power outages from last week's storm have been relocated to the Jadwin Gym on campus. That's producing more voters more than the parking lot could handle.
Inside the entrance of Jadwin Gym Linda Koepplin, watching over District 2 as an election observer, said this was not the usual voting location. "Our normal polling place was without electricity. This is all a direct result of the hurricane." she said.
Turnout has been strong at Jadwin Gym.
Our Peter Crimmins' had some interesting chats with voters in South Philly this morning. He reports:
Sean Faulkner of South Philadelphia was one of those undecided voters you hear so much about. Through months of campaigning, he was not sure where to cast his vote. He decided just last night.
"I tend to vote on economic first, and then social issues," he said. "I really had to look at social issues. Gay rights, women's right was a real big one for me. Those were two issues i really haad to look at.
In a predominately Democratic neighborhood, a Republican who is voting for Romney didn't want to give his name but would give his opinion on the campaign:
"It was a well-run fight. I think they were a bit too courteous. Mitt Romney was a little too courteous with his approach. He could have used a lot more derogatory implications against Obama. He could have hit harder."
Two Obama voters in South Philly admited that, compared to 2008, the thrill is gone.
Andrew Miller said he voted for Obama with reservations:
"I didn't see Obama as someone who was going to radically change the system of what we had. I was hoping he would have done more about the finance industry. I was disappointed in the way the bailout had been regulated.
"I'm not as excited [as in 2008]," Sarah Schol said. "I'm not as excited. I don't think he's running on the premise of excitement anymore. He's running on, 'Let's continue what we started.' It feels more somber, because we have so much more work to do."
And here's another little voting tip: Watch what you wear to go vote. Twitter is alive with reports that would-be voters are getting lectures at some polling places about wearing T-shirts with legends such as "Romnesia" or "Nobama."
They are being deemed by some election judges to be "electioneering," which is forbidden inside the polling place.
What would the ruling be on a "Rage Against the Machine" T-shirt?
From Dover Air Force Base in Delaware, a sad reminder of why our national elections matter so much.
The base reports that the bodies of two soldiers killed in Afghanistan will be arriving at the base today, Election Day.
They are Army Sgt. Brett E. Gornewicz of Alden, N.Y., and Specialist Ryan P. Jayne of Corning, New York.
Our condolences go out to the families and loved ones of these two soldiers.
And from Wallingford, in Delaware County, Pa., comes a sign that the long, loud, late-ending fight over Pennsylvania's new but suspended photographic voter ID law is spawning plenty of confusion this Election Day.
Lucas Best he went with three friends to vote at Strath Haven High School. Several of them were first-time voters at this polling place, and thus were asked to provide some proof of residence - whether a driver's license or a non-photographic document such as a utility bill.
Best said he had some ID, but his group was generally surprised because "what you took away from all the news reports was that ID wasn't required." A Pennsylvania judge suspended implementation of the photo ID requirement for this election, but poll workers are still supposed to ask for it, as a kind of practice run.
But the most pertinent fact is this: If you're new to a polling place, you DO have to supply some kind of identification; it just doesn't have to be photographic.
Best advice: If you've got any form of ID, don't leave home without it. Bring it to the polling place today.
WHYY/NewsWorks' Delaware team reports that Vice President Joe Biden voted this morning just after the polls opened at his usual spot, the A.I DuPont High School in Greenville, Del.
He was accompanied by his wife, Dr. Jill Biden. His son, Attorney General Beau Biden and his daughter-in-law and a couple of his grandchildren were with him. The Vice President waited in line with everyone else as a parade of photographers clicked away for a photo opportunity. He chatted with the poll workers and others in line as he waited his turn.
"It's always a kick to see people out here," Biden said. "I hope everyone excercises their right to vote. People are standing in line I hear in some places. I encourage them to stand in line to vote."
As he and his family turned to walk away he was asked: "Is this the last time you are going to vote for yourself?" "No, I don't think so," he replied.
Stephanie Singer, chair of the Philadelphia city commissioners, just disputed the Committee of Seventy's claim that the election is off to a messy start in the city.
She told Newsworks' Dave Davies that it's been "relatively quiet" in terms of problems and complaints.
From a polling place in Germantown, NewsWorks' Brian Hickey reports the canard about straight-ticket voting not counting for president is being discussed by people in line. A ward leader tried to supplies the correct information. (See 9 a.m. post below).
"It's looking like a messy election."
That's from Zack Stalberg, President and CEO of the Committee of Seventy, the city election watchdog.
Here's the Committee's first update on the day, based on reports from its volunteers on the phones and at the polls.
* Election Court is dealing with a host of minority (Republican) inspectors being denied access to their polling places in Philadelphia. (WHYY/NewsWorks' Benjamin Herold reports this was an issue at the Guerin Recreation Center polling place (Ward 48, Division 13) in South Philly.
* The New Black Panthers reportedly showed up, though no one can find them now. Reports were that they were outside a polling place at 11th and Germantown streets. (NewsWorks' attempts to find this activity or confirm it have so far not been successful.) Update: Committee of Seventy also reports no luck finding any sign of New Black Panther activity. (For background on who they are and why it matters, see 9 a.m. post below.) Also, reports are the Mayor Nutter himself went to the area to check out the report and found nothing.
* There are "You need a photo ID to vote" signs at a number of polling places. Seventy has asked the City Commissioners to have Judges of Elections take those signs down immediately. . You don't need a photo ID to vote today in Pennsylvania, though elections officials are supposed to ask you if you have one.
* A polling place at 7th and Cayoga Streets - in the city's Latino area - has numerous voters who do not speak English - and reportedly no interpreter in sight.
Here are a few updates from our Northwest Philadephia news team:
One of the two voting machines at Allens Lane Art Center in Mt. Airy was broken when polls opened this morning. He says a technician was on the way and the line was moving more smoothly by 8 a.m.
Turnout was heavy early today at the Lingelbach Elementary School in Germantown today. NewsWorks contributor Kiera Smalls talked to some in line who said they were going to leave and come back later to vote.
Ruby Payette, a young first-time voter from Mount Airy in Philadelphia, summed up the emotions of a lot of people on this anxious day as America elects a president:
“I’ve been talking to some friends that I know are voting for opposing parties from me," she said. "I’m kinda scared, but at the same time excited. Because I get to have a say in my president.”
From Deptford, N.J., WHYY/NewsWorks' Tom MacDonald reports:
At the three polling places inside the old public works building, the morning traffic was brisk. Not a huge turnout but a steady stream. The mood was excited and friendly, and coloring books were being handed out to children who were waiting in line with their parents.
Early reports to the Committee of Seventy, the Philadelphia election watchdog group, indicated a number of Republican poll watchers have reported problems getting access to polling places or being treated rudely by election workers. A number of cases have been referred to today's Election Court.
Also, there is a report of members of the New Black Panthers Party allegedly intimidating voters in a polling place on Germantown Avenue east of Broad Street. An incident in 2008 at a Spring Garden Street polling place involving members of this group became a national cause celebre, as some conservatives claimed it showed the Obama Justice Department was slow to pursue complaints of intimidation against Republican voters.
The Committee of Seventy is also hearing numerous complaints that voters are being told they need to produce photo identification to vote. A new state law requiring voters to show photo ID was suspended for this election by a Pennsylvania judge, who said the state hadn't done enough to help people obtain the needed ID.
The committee also put out an alert about an email being distributed around Philadelphia that tells people, falsely, that pulling a straight Democratic Party lever in the voting booth will not register as a vote for President Obama. This is not true. Straight party votes for either the Republican or Democratic parties will register a voter for the party's presidential nominee.
Here are a few key phone numbers to keep close by today:
To report problems or ask questions about voting in storm-tossed New Jersey, call 877-NJVOTER (877-658-6837). That is the official state line.
To find your polling place in New Jersey, and some were shifted due to the storm, use the New Jersey Department of State site.
The New Jersey League of Women Voters also has an informational hotline: 800-792-VOTE.
In Philadelphia, to report issues, you can call the Committee of Seventy hotline, at 866-OURVOTE.
Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams has provided two numbers for reporting incidents of voter intimidation: 215-686-9641 and 215-686-9643. Philly DA Williams providing these numbers for voters to report allegations of intimidation.
In Philadelphia, the number to call to report a malfunctioning voting machine is 215-686-1590.
Elsewhere in Pennsylvania, the number to contact state election officials to report problems is 717-787-5280.
To find your polling place in Pennsylvania, use this site.
In Delaware, the number is 877-270-8300 Delaware Commissioner of Elections
Also in New Jersey, the New Jersey News Collaborative has set up a line to create a crowd-sourced running report of how things are going at the polls. The number is 732-903-VOTE. You can also report issues on Twitter using the hashtag #NJVote, or post your reports on an online mapping tool at NJVote.crowdmap.com.
It's important to keep in mind that these News Collaborative tools are only informational; using them does not put you in touch with official election authorities.