As the Judge of Election in my district, I decide who is qualified to vote, or not, if there is any question. Roughly 2,100 voters voted in Pittsburgh 4-8, of 4,405 registered there. That's the largest district in Allegheny County, and among the largest in all of Pennsylvania. All are University of Pittsburgh students. Of those, maybe 50 had a problem of some sort.
About 3 in 5 I was able to clear up the problem with a phone call. For most of the rest, I processed a Provisional Ballot. A couple of others, however, I did not do that, even.
A Provisional Ballot is issued when the registration is in question. Here are some things that are NOT in question:
* Misspellings on the name: I properly identify the voter, instruct him/her how to resolve the issue, and put him/her in a booth.
* Incorrect address: I figure out where the registration really is -- usually just a couple blocks away -- and send the voter there, with instructions on how to resolve the problem at a later time.
For those cases, no Provisional is needed. With the problem cleared, the voter simply walks into a booth and votes.
Here are some typical situations where a Provisional is issued:
* The voter was properly registered in his/her home district for the primary, but thought he/she changed it upon moving here back in September.
* The voter was properly registered here for the primary, then tried to register elsewhere, and was not sure if it was successful.
It is not up to me to decide whether or not the vote will count. The county Election Department staff Downtown will investigate and evaluate each case, usually within a week, and only then decide whether the vote gets counted. I instructed each voter I gave a PV to call the phone number on the PV receipt to find out how the ballot was handled, and to please resolve the registration problem at that time.
There are times, though, when I can tell that there is no point in bothering with a PV, and it is here that my instruction to the world lies. First, please know that I called Downtown, to the people with the database, often spending 10 minutes or more on the phone per voter, to try to avoid the PV process. But if Downtown comes up empty -- such as no record of there ever have been a registration, either here or anywhere else in Pennsylvania -- then I know there is not a chance of the ballot being counted. In essence, then, it comes down to not wanting to waste my time or anyone else's.
Tough talk, true, and there is no way to sugar coat it, so I won't. In fact, I will toughen it more: It's on the voter, not me, not the county board, and not the election board from wherever the voter is otherwise purportedly registered.
No, it is the voter's responsibility to ensure that he/she is properly registered. Get registered, wherever, however, two months or more out from the election, then in two weeks, follow up to make sure it got done. I turned away three people who had no registration. Apparently they were scammed in a sidewalk table voter registration drive. The scammers signed everyone up, and then put all the applications in the trash.
Second, if you are not going to be in the same place as where you are registered, on Election Day, apply for, fill out and mail an absentee ballot.
Third, if you are registered close to, but not at, where you are going to be that day, make time to get to that place. The stiffest argument I had all day was with a voter who could not be bothered with hopping on a bus (two, actually) to go out to a nearby suburb. Being too lazy or too busy to travel 10 miles does not give one license to waste officials' time.
Fourth, vote. Just by showing up to vote at least every other year (at the worst), this keeps you on the active rolls. Granted not every election is as hyped as the presidential, but they all matter. Pittsburgh 4-8 had only 137 voters in the November 2007 election.
Bottom line: As a citizen of this nation, you have some responsibilities. Making sure you are registered to vote is simple, time non-intensive, and except for a postage stamp, cost free. Live up to that responsibility.