The first frost of the season didn’t seem to keep Philadelphia voters away from the polls today, with election workers reporting long lines forming before the start of the workday.
“We’ve already had as many people as we usually get by 4pm,” said Todd Kovich, a worker manning the polls in the dining room at the Gold Standard Café’ around noon. Kovich estimated around half of his district in West Philadelphia’s 46th Ward had already turned out.
The observation was common across the city. Equally common was the widespread complaint that many last-minute voter registration applications had not been added to voting rolls in time for Election Day. This forced many recently registered voters to file provisional ballots at their polling place, causing delays.
“There’s a lot more provisional ballots this year,” said Kovich. “We’ve already gotten a dozen, while we usually get two or three during the whole election.”
The issue of handling increased provisional ballots seemed to be the biggest problem for poll workers at Fire Engine Co #24, in South Philadelphia’s Point Breeze neighborhood, who noted that the city’s Election Board hotline was frequently jammed.
“There are people who registered, but they’re not in the book. Then you’ve got to call a number and if they pick up, we can give them a provisional ballot,” said William Weathersbee, an election worker at the firehouse, who added that his location had seen 10 times as many provisional ballots as normal.
Most poll workers said they were unsure of exactly why there were so many missing registrations, but the general assumption was that election authorities in Philadelphia had simply not been able to process an unexpectedly large number of last-minute registrations.
Poll workers at the Penn Medical building in Southwest Center City noted that the dozen or so provisional voters they encountered all said they registered or changed their address on the last possible day. Tim Pecsenye, one of the workers at Penn Medical, said, “I would assume the Philadelphia Bureau of Elections just wasn’t able to keep up.”
Why there had been so many last minute registrations was unclear, though workers speculated. “I think it’s because most people naturally like to procrastinate,” said Pecsenye.
Back in West Philadelphia, Kovich thought it could was the nail-biting conclusion to the presidential race. “Maybe they didn’t think it was going to be such a close election,” said Kovich, peeling off a sticker for a voter.
Provisional ballots should all be counted within seven days, however the inconvenience and apparent lack of communication between the election officials and poll workers soured some voters.
Daniel Hughes, a voter at the Taney Recreation Center in Kensington, was one such voter who was disturbed and surprised to discover that poll workers couldn’t find his name in their book of registered voters.
“I told them my address, and they sent me one place,” he said.“Those people told me I must be in the wrong division and sent me to another table. They couldn’t find me either.”
“They said, ‘You’re not in the book,’ and told me to go to somewhere down on Spring Garden Street,” Hughes continued, referring to the offices of the City Commissioners, who oversee elections Eventually another poll worker determined that Hughes had indeed registered, but had not been added to the rolls, and directed him to a provisional ballot.
Hughes, who admitted he had registered just before the deadline for applications, says the experience was confusing and disenfranchising. “I didn’t even get a sticker,” he said. “I feel a little cheated.”
Ryan Briggs is an investigative reporter based in Philadelphia. He has contributed to the Philadelphia Inquirer, WHYY, the Philadelphia City Paper, Philadelphia Magazine and Hidden City.