Audit: 40% of Philly provisional ballots cast due to polling errors

election vote
(Credit: Rikard Larma/Metro)

About 40 percent of the 27,306 ballots cast by Philadelphians during the 2012 presidential election occurred because of poll workers mistakes or polling book errors, according to an audit released Tuesday by City Controller Alan Butkovitz.

A total 10,591 voters were in error forced to cast provisional ballots due to the mistakes, the audit found.

Voters in Allegheny County, which has a similar number of registered voters to Philadelphia, cast 3,812 provisional ballots – 616 percent fewer than Philadelphia voters.

“Our office sought to determine the reasons for the widespread use of provisional ballots after there was a 116 percent increase in ballots cast from the 2008 election,” Butkovitz said in a statement.

Officials performing the audit found of the provisional ballots cast in error, 4,899 were on behalf of voters whose names were in the poll books at their correct polling place, but who should not have been compelled to vote by provisional ballot.

An additional 4,827 provisional ballots were cast due to errors in the printing of supplemental polling books, according to Butkovitz.

“Provisional ballots are an important part of the election process because they serve to ensure an individual’s right to vote,” Butkovitz said.

“City Commissioners need to work with state officials to identify and correct the cause of errors in the printing of the poll books.”

The audit revealed 9,078 voters cast provisional ballots because they went to the wrong polling location. Seventy percent of those voters went to an improper polling place that was not in a geographical proximity to where they were registered, according to the City Controller’s Office.

Officials also discovered several other problems, including 79 ballots still in sealed envelopes that were never counted, 73 ballots that were counted by shoudl have been rejected and, during six random samples of provisional ballots, numerous ballots that were not properly counted but should have been counted.

“The election process is a cornerstone to our democracy,” Butkovitz said.

“The voters should be confident that all aspects of the process are implemented fairly and competently.”

Butkovitz included in the audit recommendations for ensuring more accurate elections in the future.

Those include requiring the City Commissioners to perform independent reviews of provisional ballots to identify poll workers who may require additional training, requiring the checklist of procedures used in the poll book preparation process to be signed off and reviewed, increasing the election board training bonus from $20 to $50 and developing a new, more user friendly “Guide to Election Officers.”

“These recommendations will reduce the number of provisional ballots cast in future elections and permit the ballots to be used properly, as intended,” Butkovitz said.


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