HARRISBURG - In the world of partisan politics, one person's New Black Panther is another's misinformed poll worker.
Reports of voter intimidation, missing names, and other mishaps at the polls on Nov. 6 have sparked a duel in the Capitol over which unresolved Election Day issues should be investigated, and for what.
A Democratic Philadelphia legislator wants state and federal prosecutors to investigate what she calls "voting irregularities" reported at polling places around the state.
State Rep. Babette Josephs said reports of voter intimidation, poll workers wrongly demanding photo identification, and faulty voting machines added up to evidence of "shameful" denials of voting rights.
"The widespread nature and the large numbers of these reports make it clear that the state and many counties did not properly educate poll workers," Josephs, ranking minority member of the state government committee, wrote in a letter Wednesday to state Attorney General Linda Kelly and U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder.
Meanwhile, the committee's chairman, Rep. Daryl Metcalfe (R., Butler), said he was gathering his own reports of election violations, such as the purported member of the New Black Panther Party seen at a Philadelphia polling place, and the mural of President Obama on the wall of a school that served as a polling place. (Republicans complained, and a judge ordered it covered.)
"There are a lot of allegations out there that I will pursue," Metcalfe said.
The complaint heard most in Philadelphia was from registered voters whose names were not in the poll books distributed in advance to all polling places. Those voters were allowed to fill out provisional ballots. Officials reported this week that they collected 27,146 such ballots, more than twice the 12,733 collected in 2008.
The process of determining which of those ballots are valid is painstaking. The total won't be known until the city's official count is completed, likely late in November.
State Rep. Gary Williams (D., Phila.), a ward leader, said he was alarmed that many longtime voters' names were not in poll books and that some divisions ran out of provisional ballots. "This was another act of voter suppression and I'm not going to stand for it," he said at a news conference with Josephs.
Metcalfe - as well as conservative bloggers and talk-show hosts - has raised questions about the unanimous vote for Obama in some parts of Philadelphia. As The Inquirer reported Monday, 59 of the city's 1,687 voting divisions tallied no votes for Republican Mitt Romney.
So far, no machine malfunctions have been reported, and voters in those divisions told The Inquirer they thought the numbers reflected Romney's lack of support among low-income and minority voters.
When asked, Metcalfe - who sponsored the state's controversial voter identification law - said he was willing to probe all complaints, whether from Democratic or Republican voters.
A judge barred enforcement of the new law in the fall election; only first-time voters had to produce acceptable ID. But there were scattered reports of poll workers and signs at polls saying photo ID was a must.
"If people demanded to produce ID and this was not first-time voters, whoever demanded it is violating the law, and I'm concerned," Metcalfe said. "But if a mural with the message of a candidate was on the wall of a polling place and it wasn't covered, I'm concerned about that, too."