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Election systems could face problems, official says

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Thursday, April 3, 2008

HARRISBURG -- The chairwoman of the House State Government Committee said she is concerned that Pennsylvania's local election systems could face serious problems on April 22 in the face of "staggering" new registrations and a possible record turnout.

"I do not have 100 percent confidence," Rep. Babette Josephs, D-Philadelphia, said Thursday. Her chief concern is whether up to 170,000 new voters, most of them Democrats, will be allowed to vote if they show up without ID or at the wrong polling place.

She's worried about availability of provisional ballots, voting machines working, and whether results will be counted properly in Republican-controlled counties with Democratic-majority cities.

Asked if she gained any confidence as a result of a hearing before her committee yesterday, Josephs said "some."

The Democratic presidential primary between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton marks the first time Pennsylvania's primary has played a critical role in the presidential race since 1976. Pennsylvania also has contests for Congress, the state General Assembly and state row offices.

Pedro Cortes, secretary of the Department of State which oversees the state elections bureau, said the system is ready.

"I am confident the Department and the counties will be well prepared for the primary," Cortes said. He called 155,959 new registrations "staggering." There are typically only a few thousand in an election year. he said. The number could climb to 170,000 when all are counted, he said. In addition, 146,625 voters have changed parties, mostly to the GOP

Josephs said she is not concerned about the Department of State being ready. But county elections directors were too busy to come and testify and she worries about the local readiness.

"The bottom line is we are confident that counties are prepared. We are anticipating any problems that would arise," said Doug Hill, lobbyist for the County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania.

It's possible that Pennsylvania could see a record turnout, Hill said.

Josephs might be worrying too much, said Rep.Matthew Baker, of Tioga County, the ranking Republican on the panel.

"I am not as concerned," he said.

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