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More than 200,000 state voters purged

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Tuesday, April 21, 2009

More than 200,000 people have been removed from Pennsylvania's voter rolls since the presidential election in November — 53,000 of them in Allegheny County.

The reduction is part of a regular purge of registrations for people who haven't voted in at least five years, or the last two presidential elections. The purge helped registered Republicans narrow Democrats' 1.2-million voter registration advantage by 30,000 voters.

In all, about 8.6 million people remained registered to vote in Pennsylvania as of Thursday, the last day for which statewide statistics are available. Large registration declines are common in years after major elections, said Pennsylvania Department of State spokesman Charlie Young. From November 2006 to the following May, officials purged 75,000 voters from the rolls, and 300,000 during the same period in 2004.

Monday was the deadline to register for the May 19 primary. With few races drawing much interest, however, the number of registrations slowed to a trickle of about 50 per day, said Mark Wolosik, manager of the Allegheny County Elections Division.

"There isn't the level of interest in this primary as there was last year," when Pennsylvania became the focal point in the marathon Democratic presidential primary race between then-senators Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, Wolosik said.

The only statewide offices on the ballot this year are judicial races, making the Pittsburgh mayor's contest the highest-profile contest on the May ballot.

Mayor Luke Ravenstahl is being challenged by City Councilman Patrick Dowd and attorney Carmen Robinson in the primary. Democrats vastly outnumber Republicans in Pittsburgh, and the Democratic primary winner hasn't lost the general election in more than 75 years.

Next year's primary includes battles for governor and U.S. senator, both of which are expected to include multiple candidates campaigning hard for the parties' nominations. Term limits bar Gov. Ed Rendell from seeking re-election. Republican U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter will face former U.S. Rep. Pat Toomey and Peg Luksik, a Johnstown conservative, in a primary battle that's drawing national attention.

The Pennsylvania League of Young Voters, which opposes the lack of a paper-ballot backup to Allegheny County's touch-screen voting machines, warned there remains no independent way to verify vote totals from the machines. A recent study by the group found 311 over-votes in 1,011 precincts in November.

Over-votes occur when the number of votes the machines record exceeds the number of voters elections judges record.

"There aren't any checks for the ballot in the machine," said Carly Dobbins-Bucklad, the league's director.

Wolosik said the discrepancies almost always are the result of human error -- for example, an elections judge giving the same number to two voters, making the final count one vote short.




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