Mayor Nutter's study of why an inordinate number of people were forced to vote with unreliable paper ballots in November should serve as a platform for reform in the city's electoral system.

Voters cast 27,355 provisional, or paper, ballots, which are not counted until after Election Day, when the voter's identity can be verified. That was more than twice the 12,733 provisional ballots cast in 2008.

Most of the ballots were eventually ruled valid, but many were thrown out. The rejects included ballots cast by people not registered or others who had been removed from the voter lists for currently unknown reasons.

City Commissioner Anthony Clark said many may have asked for provisional ballots because they were afraid of being turned away for lack of a photo ID. That's unfortunate since Commonwealth Judge Robert E. Simpson had halted the state's restrictive ID law for the Nov. 6 election.

Many legitimate voters' names couldn't be found in poll books. Some were first-time voters who registered when they were 17 but were 18 by Election Day. It's a shame that their very first voting experience was such a hassle.

Nutter's study team, which includes some top city executives and the pastor of a large church, should take a look at a 2009 report from the public advocacy group Committee of Seventy, which calls for converting the City Commission from an elected to an appointed body.

While not recommending a specific organizational model, the Committee of Seventy noted that Philadelphia is one of only 10 major American cities that still votes to choose its election officials. Some are appointed by the mayor, others by a combination of state and elected city officials.

Running elections has become increasingly technical, which is why knowledge and management skills must trump political ambitions in filling City Commission positions. Otherwise, the situation is as absurd as it would be to elect a health commissioner with plenty of political connections, but no medical background.

Nutter's fact-finding mission is one of three credible investigations into Election Day problems. City Controller Alan Butkovitz and the City Commission itself are looking into mishaps. With so much scrutiny, the public should be optimistic about the possibility of good recommendations.

For all Philadelphians, there must be assurances that the confusion seen in November won't recur in another election. Make that doubly so for all the voters forced to use paper ballots when they had every right to vote by machine and have it counted immediately.