Philadelphia gets double votes. Republican “election integrity” rules complicate the task.


Philadelphia election officials are set to scrap or drastically reduce a procedure designed to catch double votes.

Ironically, it’s because of Republican-imposed rules on “Election Integrity Grants.”

Otherwise, the city stands to lose millions of dollars.

The procedure, known as poll book reconciliation, compares absentee ballots with poll books from Election Day. If a person is listed on the ballot books as voting in person but the city also receives an absentee ballot from the same voter, the absentee ballot is discarded to ensure that only one vote per person counts . The process has caught dozens of accidental double votes in 2020, but none in the past three elections.

But the reconciliation of the poll books temporarily halts the counting of votes, sometimes for a day or more. And that appears to conflict with a new state law known as Law 88, which provides state election funding with conditions, including that the count “continue uninterrupted.”

Now local officials must decide whether to risk millions of dollars by keeping the procedure in place to catch double votes — or re-exposing a vulnerability that was patched in previous elections.

The municipal commissioners, who run the elections, will not make a final decision until shortly before Election Day. But they seem very likely to reduce the reconciliation of the polls rather than risk giving the legislature an opening to recoup the $5.4 million in funding.

“We are currently reviewing the impact of Bill 88 on our procedures and will adjust accordingly,” Nick Custodio, deputy to Commissioners Chair Lisa Deeley, said in a statement.

Each elector is entitled to only one vote; if you vote by post, you cannot vote in person, and vice versa.

The poll books constitute the register of voters for each constituency and the voters in person sign them when they register. With the rise of mail-in voting, ballot records also show whether a voter has ever requested a mail-in ballot or submitted one. If you have already done so, a poll worker is supposed to prevent you from voting in person.

But the poll books are printed before polling day. Voters whose mail-in ballots are received after the books are printed are supposed to get a stamp of their name in the ballot book which acts as a warning to poll workers. These voters should only be allowed to use a provisional ballot or vote on the machines if they hand in their absentee ballot for spoiling.

READ MORE: Philadelphia election officials detected 40 cases of double voting. It’s not fraud, but it’s still a problem.

Mistakes can happen, though, and that’s where poll book reconciliation comes in. It is the process of scanning the poll books into the voter registry known as the SURE system to note everyone who has voted in person. If the poll book shows you voted in person, your mail-in ballot is removed and rejected.

In the 2020 primary election, the reconciliation process identified 40 cases of double voting. The officials also got double votes in the general election, but none in the last three elections. Officials believe these double votes are accidents, not intentional fraud — nervous or confused voters trying to vote in person just in case something goes wrong with their mail-in ballots.

Reconciliation of the poll book requires a pause in the counting of votes.

When Philly begins counting ballots at 7 a.m. on Election Day, it only counts those received before the poll books are printed — those that commissioners know for sure are marked in the poll books. ballot. This year, Custodio said, the books will be printed on the Wednesday before Election Day on Nov. 8.

After this initial batch, the count stops while the workers go through the ballot books. Only then does the process resume, with double votes being discarded.

The duration of the shutdown varies; in the 2020 primary, the count stopped for five days.

Since then, officials have made the process more efficient by going in batches, scanning the poll books for groups of precincts at a time. After an initial pause, which in recent elections lasted a day or two, the processes of reconciliation of the ballot books and counting of absentee ballots can take place in parallel, one behind the other.

But this break in the vote count creates a problem for Philly.

READ MORE: Pennsylvania counties are concerned about new state election fund rules, but almost all have enforced them anyway

As part of state budget negotiations this year, the Republican-controlled Legislature passed a law banning the use of private money to run elections and instead providing public funding to counties. The move was aimed at preventing the kind of private grants counties received in 2020, which Republicans have criticized as inappropriate and partisan. (Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, a target of conservative ire, helped fund the group behind the money, and major Democratic counties, which have the most voters and mail-in ballots, have received the largest grants.)

Law 88’s “Election Integrity Grants” come with a requirement that vote counting begin at 7 a.m. on Election Day and “continue uninterrupted” until all ballots are cast. votes have been counted.

Forcing counties to count ballots around the clock was intended to speed things up, after Republicans criticized the lengthy process that has sometimes meant days of waiting before races are called. These delays have also given room for right-wing conspiracy theories about spoiled votes and stolen elections. The preferred solution of election officials, which they have advocated since 2020, is to be allowed to start processing or even counting ballots before Election Day.

Custodio said the city is reviewing the law.

Barring a breakthrough, suspending the tally for the reconciliation of the polls carries the risk that the legislature will claw back the $5.4 million Philadelphia receives. The commissioners could advance the vote count and either drastically reduce the reconciliation process or forego it altogether, knowing that double votes could potentially pass.

Few counties have used a similar process to catch double votes, and it’s unclear if others will this time. And the absence of double votes in the past three elections may provide some confidence that voters are becoming more familiar with mail-in ballots.

The commissioners had hoped to avoid the problem altogether through the use of electronic poll books, which could be updated much closer to election day and could then speed up the reconciliation process. This could mean not having to interrupt the vote count at all.

Officials wanted to roll out electronic polling books this election and had even started training workers to use them, but announced last month that they were not ready for use. (It was the second time the city has failed to roll out electronic voting books, after scrapping plans in 2019.)

If the technical issues are resolved for future elections, this could solve the problem. The legislator could also modify the law, if he considers that the reconciliation of the poll books is useful.

For now, Custodio said, the decision on what to do with this election will be made when the commissioners have finalized counting procedures. This vote is expected on the Wednesday before Election Day.

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