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New website logs complaints from Pennsylvania voters

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By Adam Smeltz
Thursday, Nov. 15, 2012, 12:01 a.m.
 

More than 500 voters used a new Pennsylvania website to complain about possible problems in the Nov. 6 election, the Department of State said Wednesday.

The 534 complaints range from concerns about voter intimidation to potential issues with absentee ballots, voter registration, bribery and machine tampering, according to a state report.

Allegheny County logged the second-most complaints, at 69. Philadelphia — the only county more populated than Allegheny — tallied 103.

It's not clear whether the numbers reflect a worsening problem. The state on Oct. 24 introduced the website, a brainchild of Secretary of State Carol Aichele.

“We never had this form before, so we never had a good way to keep a record of it,” said department spokesman Ron Ruman, adding that the department handled past complaints more informally, with no centralized record-keeping. “It's really tough to offer any comparison.”

He said the state would refer the online complaints to the counties.

Aichele pitched the page — available through the Department of State and VotesPA websites — as a central means to register concerns.

Election officials in several counties said they haven't received complaints filed through the page. Ruman didn't share specifics from the complaint files, but a state overview showed 14 people in Allegheny County cited concerns about absentee ballots; 12 about voter intimidation; 10, registration; and eight, pollworker violations. Thirty-six fell into the “other” category.

Ruman said counties will get the complaints Thursday.

County elections Manager Mark Wolosik said he received about a half-dozen voter complaints through other avenues, about on par with other elections.

One voter alleged his or her name wasn't in a poll book; another complained about a line at a polling place. Someone else said he or she hadn't received a voting-location change notice, Wolosik said.

Ten people filed online complaints in Westmoreland County. Commissioner Chuck Anderson said he supports the online approach.

“When (the electronic complaints) come in, I'm certainly going to pay attention to those and make sure everybody gets a fair shake,” Anderson said.

In Washington County, elections Director Larry Spahr said the webpage could be a useful resource “if people are aware of it.”

He said the county typically has fewer than a half-dozen voter complaints in general elections, most of them prompted by volunteers campaigning too close to polls.

Three complaints in Washington County were filed through the state.

“I think it's something that, as time goes by, people will become more aware of,” Ruman said.

Adam Smeltz is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-380-5676 or asmeltz@tribweb.com.

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