The city's Democratic Party chief, U.S. Rep. Bob Brady, rarely says anything negative about his compadres in public life, at least to reporters. It's one of the principles that have kept him in power the last 25 years.
So we were surprised to hear this comment to The Inquirer's Washington correspondent, Jonathan Tamari, who asked Brady on Thursday about Election Day problems.
"We had minimum problems, other than the provisional ballots that our commissioner screwed up, but she can't screw it up no more," Brady said.
The clear reference was to City Commissioner Stephanie Singer, who was unceremoniously dumped as the city's election chief Wednesday by the two other commissioners, Republican Al Schmidt and Democrat Anthony Clark, who made themselves cochairmen.
Whether anybody "screwed up" provisional ballots is questionable. We haven't heard of a single polling place that ran out of provisional ballots on Election Day, despite a panicky court filing in midafternoon by Democratic lawyers seeking emergency-ballot deliveries to all 1,687 divisions in the city. The list was eventually pared down to 91 divisions, and when the ballots arrived late Tuesday afternoon, 26 polling places said they weren't needed and sent them back.
While the three elected commissioners oversee city elections, the nuts-and-bolts machinery is still run, capably, by the civil service staff assembled by Marge Tartaglione, who ran the office for 36 years (minus a four-year period when she was not the commissioners' chair) until Singer beat her in last year's Democratic primary. Whatever happened on Election Day, Brady's comment signals Singer may have a rocky road to reelection in 2015. - Bob Warner
One voter forced to cast a provisional ballot Tuesday was the city's Parks and Recreation commissioner, Michael DiBerardinis, who went to his polling place in Port Richmond and was told that his name wasn't in the poll books, though he'd lived in the same house for 20 years. Somehow, voting records had him living at his daughter's address.
"I got moved to another address - and I didn't move," he said. "I was nuts. I went berserk."
He ended up voting on a provisional ballot - a paper ballot that goes into a separate envelope, to be opened and counted later if the voter is found to be properly registered.
Typically there are thousands of provisional ballots cast in a general election in Philadelphia - some 8,800 were counted after the last presidential election in 2008, according to the city commissioners. Sometimes they result from mistakes in the poll books, other times because confused voters show up at the wrong polling place. Under the state's new voter ID law, suspended for this election, they'll be used in future elections for voters who are in the poll book but don't have a valid form of photo ID.
There's no provisional ballot count yet available for last week's election, but the Committee of Seventy and Democratic Party workers complained that the numbers were extraordinarily high. All three of the city commissioners have promised a thorough investigation.