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Poor training cited in election problems

| Thursday, Dec. 16, 2004, 12:00 p.m.

Carnegie Mellon University student Abigail Rives spent four hours trying to vote in the presidential election on Nov. 2.

After finding that her name was not on the rolls at her polling place and that there were no provisional ballots there, she traveled to Downtown and obtained a court order allowing her to vote.

When she returned to her polling place, election workers said they had since learned that their provisional ballots were marked "absentee" ballots, so they'd had them all along.

Celeste Taylor, of the Election Protection Coalition, which hosted a public hearing Downtown Wednesday night to discuss voting problems, said the primary complaints from voters were that the provisional ballot system did not operate effectively and voters arriving at the proper polling place found they were not on the rolls.

"For the most part, it's a lack of training, and I think we need a different attitude taken toward voters," Taylor said. "It shouldn't be hard to vote."

According to Election Protection, a national nonpartisan voters rights group that deployed more than 25,000 volunteer poll watchers in the election, the voter hot line run by Common Cause received 6,089 calls from Allegheny County -- more than from any other county in the nation.

Carlos Brossard, representing the Western Pennsylvania Black Political Assembly, said areas of Allegheny County with large numbers of young, poor or black residents had the biggest problems.

"No single routine controlled who was turned away or for what reason," he said at the hearing. "How in heaven's name can you have an election without minimum operational procedures?"

Taylor said about 20 people signed up to testify and about 30 more provided written affidavits detailing their problems.

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