Election worker: 50 to 100 students couldn’t vote

By Marissa Meredyth

Almost 100 Oakland residents were turned away from at least one polling location during… Almost 100 Oakland residents were turned away from at least one polling location during yesterday’s midterm elections.

Blithe Runsdorf, a judge of elections, said 50 to 100 people who said they filled out change-of-address or new-registration forms were not registered as eligible to vote in the 2010 midterm elections.

An hour after the polls closed last night, Mark Wolosik, Allegheny elections division manager said, “This is the first I’ve heard of it.”

When the polls were about to close yesterday evening, Runsdorf and four fellow election workers in Ward 4, District 7, based in Soldiers & Sailors, had to explain to yet another person that she was not registered to vote at all.

Hetal Patel, a Pitt freshman, waited as Runsdorf made a phone call to verify her information.

Patel told elections workers that she received a knock on her door in her campus dormitory sometime between the last week of September and the first week of October. Two people asked her if she was registered to vote. Patel said she told them she was not and filled out a voter registration card and gave it back to them.

“I was really excited to vote,” Patel said, “I just turned 18.”

Patel said she never received a voter registration card.

Runsdorf said people repeated stories like Patel’s all day. Runsdorf offered Patel a voter-registration form that would allow her to vote in upcoming elections, but not during yesterday’s midterm election.

“Those students should have been offered provisional ballots,” Wolosik said, “We will look into this.”

The Allegheny County Procedures for the Conduct of Elections said people must be provided the opportunity to cast a provisional ballot.

“Individuals are to be provided the opportunity to cast a provisional ballot if the individual appears to vote and claims to be properly registered and eligible to vote in the election district, but the individual’s name does not appear on the general register and elections officials cannot determine his registration,” according to Allegheny County’s website.

County election officials will examine the provisional ballots within seven days after an election to determine if the person who cast the ballot was entitled to vote in the election district.

The Pitt News saw two students who were not offered this opportunity during the last hour polls were open in Ward 4, District 7, including Petal.

“By the time students learn they can’t vote, they don’t want the provisional ballot anyway,” said Runsdorf, who did not ask all of the students if they wanted the provisional ballot. Runsdorf could not be reached for comment later last night.

Runsdorf said no provisional ballots were filled out in her precinct. Of the 50 to 100 people turned away, it is unclear how many, if any, were offered the opportunity to fill out a provisional ballot.

All the prospective voters’ stories were similar, Runsdorf said. Students explained that they had filled out registration forms, like Patel, in dormitories. Patel did not remember if the people who gave her a registration form were a part of any organization.

None of the students Runsdorf encountered remembered who registered them.

A couple students who were not registered said they filled out registration forms at the Student Activities Fair, Runsdorf said.

“If they were just change-of-address updates in Allegheny County, I could send them down to make a case with a sitting judge to work it out,” Runsdorf said. “But if they were first-time voters or out-of-state, there was nothing they could do.”

The forms students said they filled out either did not get to the Allegheny County Election Board, or possibly were received after the Oct. 4 deadline, according to Runsdorf.

If the forms were received late, students should start getting registrations cards soon, Runsdorf said.