By Bob Warner
A report on Philadelphia voting irregularities issued Wednesday by Republican City Commissioner Al Schmidt was immediately overwhelmed with partisan rhetoric over Pennsylvania’s new voter ID law.
Schmidt’s staff took a detailed look at election operations in the April 2012 primary, focusing on roughly 15 divisions – less than 1 percent of the city’s polling places – where a preliminary analysis suggested there were more votes recorded than the number of people who showed up at the polls.
That turned out not to be the case in most of the divisions Schmidt investigated. But his review pointed to various other problems, any of which could make a difference in a tight race decided by a small number of votes, he said at a news conference.
Among the irregularities Schmidt cited:
One woman, whose name was not disclosed, apparently voted twice at two polling places in two West Philadelphia wards. Schmidt said he was referring the case to the district attorney.
Six unexplained votes appeared for Republican candidates in a division in Mayfair’s 55th Ward.
Citywide, 23 people who were not registered to vote were allowed to vote anyway, because the election officials at their polling places did not follow the prescribed procedures for dealing with people whose names did not appear in poll books.
Eight people were allowed to vote in the Democratic primary in West Philadelphia’s Sixth Ward, even though they were registered in other political parties.
Because some voters were sent to the wrong voting machines, where two or more divisions were voting in the same building, three people cast votes in legislative races in districts where they didn’t live.
Inquiries from federal immigration officials led this year to the discovery that 19 registered voters in Philadelphia are not U.S. citizens, and therefore not legally registered. Most of them didn’t actually vote, but over the last 10 years, seven of the 19 have voted in at least one election, Schmidt said.
Schmidt’s review of the primary election did not disclose any previously unreported instances of voter impersonation, ostensibly the major reason for the state’s new voter ID law, which requires all Pennsylvania voters to present a driver’s license or other specified form of photo ID when they go to the polls in November.
But he threw in a two-page description of the only known voter impersonation case in Philadelphia in the last five years – the still-mysterious case of someone who has registered twice, originally in 1990 as “Joseph Cheeseboro,” using a South Philadelphia address that later became a vacant lot, and again in 2003 as “Joseph J. Cheeseborough,” using an address that belonged to a 7-Eleven store.
Cheeseborough didn’t vote under either name in the 2012 primary. But he had voted under one name or the other in eight elections over the last five years, and in the 2007 primary and general elections, he voted twice, using both names, Schmidt reported.
Schmidt said his report was designed to describe the kinds of irregularities that occur in Philadelphia elections, not to play a role in the continuing controversy over voter ID, which faces a critical test in Commonwealth Court beginning next week.
But it did just that. Various state Republican leaders jumped on Schmidt’s report as evidence of massive corruption in Philadelphia elections, justifying voter ID and maybe more.
“Commissioner Schmidt’s report finally confirms what leading Democrat opponents of voter photo ID and those in the mainstream media have been denying all along,” said a news release from State Rep. Daryl Metcalfe (R., Butler), who chairs the House State Government Committee.
“Philadelphia is, without question, one of our nation’s most infested epicenters for rampant election fraud and corruption,” Metcalfe added, promising future hearings “to combat election fraud throughout Pennsylvania.”
Secretary of the Commonwealth Carol Aichele seconded the alarm. “It is clear that some of the alleged crimes would have been prevented if Pennsylvania’s voter ID law had been in place in previous elections,” she said.
State Republican chairman Rob Gleason said Schmidt’s report “should silence all those partisans and pundits who have been saying that there are no cases of voter fraud. . . . Voter ID legislation takes a step forward in combating threats to our election process.”
Schmidt’s colleague in City Hall, City Commission Chairwoman Stephanie Singer, a Democrat, said his report “includes serious allegations of voting irregularities . . . that certainly warrant a more thorough investigation.”
But she added she saw “no conclusive evidence that the new voter photo ID law will help mitigate the incidences described.”