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Amid challenges, thousands of Delco voters to get provisional ballots

Delaware County officials on Friday said thousands of voters registered by a grassroots group now under investigation will be allowed to cast ballots next week, but their votes could later be challenged.

Delaware County officials on Friday said thousands of voters registered by a grassroots group now under investigation will be allowed to cast ballots next week, but their votes could later be challenged.

The decision by the bipartisan county Voter Registration Commission to limit those voters to provisional paper ballots comes after state police raided two FieldWorks LLC offices in a week, searching for evidence of voter registration fraud.

Since the first raid in Norwood, Delaware County Republicans had questioned the timeliness and the legitimacy of more than 7,000 registrations submitted by FieldWorks, alleging many were incomplete or possibly fraudulent.

After the hearing Friday, the county voting board ruled that all voters registered in that batch will be able to cast provisional ballots on Nov. 8 - an accepted method when questions about eligibility arise. But the decision means that after the election, candidates could still challenge the provisional ballots, sparking a more thorough review of their legitimacy.

FieldWorks, a national firm that works mostly with Democrat, pays hourly workers to register new voters. After the raids at its Norwood and North Philadelphia offices, people familiar with the probe said they believed investigators were looking for evidence that FieldWorks' canvassers may have submitted fake registration forms to inflate the number of new voters they could claim to have recruited.

In a statement Friday, Attorney General Bruce Beemer said reaching any conclusion about the probe or possible crimes would be premature. "At this stage of the investigation," he said, "there is no evidence of voter fraud."

FieldWorks has denied wrongdoing and pledged to cooperate. In a statement Friday, a spokesman said FieldWorks "does not pay employees for voter registration programs based on a quota."

State law bars paying people to obtain voter registrations based on quotas.

In an interview Friday, a former employee of FieldWorks' Norwood office said such "daily goals" were part of her job.

"They didn't use the word quota, but it was a quota," said Ruthann Alexander, 25, of West Philadelphia.

Alexander said she was required to register 18 new voters a day, and that she was fired after repeatedly falling short of that mark. She said she usually registered only three to five voters during a six-hour shift on Center City streets.

"The manager told me . . . that she didn't really care how we got our quota," Alexander said. ". . . When she was telling me that I needed to make my numbers, she told me she was under a lot of pressure."

Alexander provided the Inquirer with a FieldWorks pay-stub, which showed she was paid $13 per hour. She recalled one colleague claiming to register 30 to 35 voters a day.

A FieldWorks spokesman said the company would not comment on personnel.

The voter board meeting in Delaware County was convened to determine if FieldWorks filed registration forms past the state's Oct. 11 deadline.

County officials say they didn't receive forms from FieldWorks until Oct. 14 and 17. The Department of State has maintained that FieldWorks submitted those forms to its offices by the deadline - but it took several days for the county to receive them.

Delaware County - long a GOP stronghold - asked for proof. Jessica Mathis, chief of election services for the state, provided an affidavit, assuring they were timely. "Department policy is to forward only valid, timely voter registration applications," her affidavit said.

County officials also had questions about the legitimacy of some forms. According to Carmen P. Belefonte, chairman of the county Voter Registration Commission, nearly 2,500 of the submitted forms appeared to be duplicates. Another 250 included fraudulent information and will be referred to investigators, said Frank Catania, solicitor for the county election bureau. He wouldn't specify what fraudulent information but said in most cases voters who filled out the forms weren't to blame.

"The breakdown occurred when that applicant handed the form over to a FieldWorks representative," Catania said. "FieldWorks, in conjunction with the Department of State, is the cause of this problem."

After the hearing, Delaware County Republican Party Chairman Andy Reilly said that he respected the commission's "tough" decision - but that he was "leaving with great concerns about a conspiracy," specifically one to submit the forms after the deadline. And in races separated by a few votes, he said, Republicans intend to challenge the provisional ballots.

David Landau, chairman of the county's Democratic Party, said he was concerned voters who are told to vote provisionally on Nov. 8 might misunderstand or question the process - and leave the polls without casting a ballot.

"It's just another barrier to voting," said Joe Corrigan, spokesman for the county Democratic Party.

By law, any voters who are not properly registered are allowed to vote provisionally on Election Day. Provisional ballots are examined and counted within seven days of the election.