God Bless You, Bumbling Philadelphia Election Workers

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Nov. 6 2012 2:45 PM

God Bless You, Bumbling Philadelphia Election Workers

Daniel Denvir has a pulse-quickening report on the inability of Philadelphia officials to do anything right, as a few dozen voters show up in Democratic precincts and don't see their names on the rolls.

The Committee of Seventy had raised concerns that the City Commissioners, elected officials who manage city elections, were not processing late voter registrations quickly enough. Seventy Director Zack Stalberg wrote in a letter that up to 20,000 registrations were still unprocessed in mid-October, "raising the possibility that potential voters will not be registered –or know whether they are registered – in time to vote on Election Day."
"We have alerted the City Commissioners," says the Seventy staffer. "They are looking at the problem. Probably fair to say that they seem to think it's not that big an issue. But I will say this: we can't link it to the backlog issue per se, but it's hard for us not to at least wonder about that."

The irony: This is a side-effect of Democrats organizing before the election. In Pennsylvania, and in every swing state, they concentrated for months on registered new voters that they could turn out when the time cam to mobilize. Democrats and the NAACP and OFA did their job; the city barely did its job. This is the problem with the voter ID panic, too. Democrats and the ALCU won their lawsuits and held back the law. Elections officials, alternately stupid and venal, have continued to ask voters for ID.

Stores like this make me irritated about a perennial story that always inspires paranoia and eye-rolling. Campaigns call on lawyers to volunteer their services in key states if the election looks close. Operatives joke about the "margin of litigation." Republicans, mostly, rev up their base by warning of the shady lawyers coming in to "fix" the election. But the lawyers are there because Americans suck at running elections. This is the third race in four years that's close enough to explose the bottlings and fumbles and #fails of an electoral system that switches up standards from county to county. Voter registrations are processed at maybe one-hundreth the speed of, say, credit card applications. It's improved since 2000, but it's still atrocious, and too rarely is the anger directed at the source instead of the partisans worrying that their votes won't count.

David Weigel, a former Slate politics reporter, is a reporter for Bloomberg Politics


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