My decades-long experiences as a voter in Philadelphia were mostly satisfactory, but my luck ran out on Nov. 8.
When I entered my center city polling place, poll workers improperly demanded that I produce identification. The 2011 general election occasioned my third or fourth visit to this site. A registered voter is required to produce identification once after s/he moves to their new address.
I reminded them that lawmakers in Harrisburg were currently haggling over a proposal to require identification during each election, which means that they had no legal authority to demand this.
More after the jump.
They told me that the judge of elections directed them to demand ID. They said that the judge can do this while the legislature is determining what to do in the future. I declined and they asked me to recite my address, which I did.
I informed them that I was going to phone the elections board. One poll worker responded that they would tell me what a great job they were doing.
This was at least the third time that I voted at this polling place since my polling place was relocated a few years ago.
A similar experience occurred last May. When I entered the polling place, a worker yelled at me to produce identification. At that time, I was not aware that identification was an issue, so I produced ID.
Both these experiences were bizarre and disturbing. I have to wonder where the city commission finds these people. Whatever the merits of the proposed legislation, it is still not the law. In addition, I probably would have produced ID had they asked me for it as a courtesy. However, they had no right to make demands, even to have me recite my address.
I complained to anyone who I thought was responsible or had an interest in my concern – the Pennsylvania Department of State, state Rep. Babette Josephs and newly-elected City Commissioner Stephanie Singer, a Democrat who does not assume office until January. I reluctantly contacted the city commission office still run by departing Commissioner Marge Tartaglione.
A City Commission lawyer hooked me up with my Democratic committeeman, who immediately apologized and promised that this kind of conduct would not be repeated. He explained there was a miscommunication and described other unusual circumstances that contributed to this episode.
While his explanation begged more questions, I deeply appreciated his responsiveness.
I confess to not following the city commission election closely. I was aware that the commission under Tartaglione was heavily politicized. My attempts to learn more about the election process or research voter turnout and past election results were undermined by the agency’s website, if you can call it that. The website is essentially a blank slate that is utterly useless.
A few weeks after the election, I learned that my experience was nothing unusual after reading an Inquirer interview with Singer and Al Schmidt, the incoming commission members who will replace, respectively, Tartaglione and Joseph Duda. Schmidt is a Republican.
In excerpts, Schmidt said, “The common denominators during the campaign really focused on transparency, making sure the office provides information to people when they need it…that it’s more efficient and more accountable to taxpayers and people who depend on it for service…They’re not transparent in how they spend taxpayer dollars…but more importantly, the information that people need to become engaged in the civic life of the city.”
Singer: “Part of it is simply making certain information is easily, publicly available, through the usual formats and also on a website. Budget detail and election results and things like that. And part of it is changing the culture of the office…making clear that we’re here to serve the public – the voters, the candidates, and the parties. And that our job is to make it easier for people…to be engaged.”
Schmidt: “The training of election board workers has been really very poor, and I think it shows in a lot of ways. I know it hurts our minority party and other minority parties…They’ve never seen a poll-watcher certificate before and they kick people out…It causes a lot of havoc on election day.”
Schmidt and Singer talk like serious people intent on serving the public to the best of their abilities. Under ideal circumstances, there would be nothing special about them. The Schmidt-Singer team should be the standard, not the exception.