County tosses most late voter forms from grassroots group

AP News
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Posted: Nov 04, 2016 6:27 PM

MEDIA, Pa. (AP) — Election officials in suburban Philadelphia rejected about three-quarters of the thousands of last-minute voter registration applications gathered by a grassroots organization under state police investigation for possible fraud, saying most were error-ridden.

Delaware County officials at a hearing Friday said about 3,400 applications gathered by the Democratic firm FieldWorks LLC were duplicates or had invalid addresses or other errors. The county determined voters named on another 1,160 valid applications could submit provisional ballots Tuesday, even though their applications arrived at the county after Pennsylvania's Oct. 11 deadline to register for the election.

Election officials must confirm voters who cast provisional ballots are eligible to vote before their ballots can be counted.

"It's not a perfect remedy, but it's a practical remedy," Delaware County solicitor Frank Catania said.

The FieldWorks applications were sent to the Pennsylvania Department of State, which forwarded them to Delaware County several days past the Oct. 11 deadline, prompting county officials to question whether FieldWorks submitted them on time.

Jessica Mathis, chief of the Department of State's voter registration division, testified by phone Friday the applications were received by the deadline but said the state didn't keep the postmarks. State officials had urged the county to accept the applications.

The Washington, D.C.-based FieldWorks has worked with Democratic and liberal groups around the country. Court documents show state police have searched the company's Delaware County and Philadelphia offices for evidence of voter registration fraud.

A former canvasser with the group, Ruthann Alexander, told The Philadelphia Inquirer her managers had given her a goal of 18 new voters each day. The West Philadelphia resident said she was fired after failing to meet the goal and questions other canvassers' registration methods.

Pennsylvania law prohibits companies from paying canvassers based on registration quotas. FieldWorks said earlier in the week it has "zero tolerance for fraud" and pledged to work with authorities.

Records show Democrats have been more successful than Republicans in registering voters in Delaware County this election cycle. Democrats have expanded their registration edge to nearly 18,000 in the county of 413,000 voters.

Attorneys for the county Republican and Democratic parties and the Pennsylvania American Civil Liberties Union spoke before the panel Friday.

Mary Catherine Roper, the Pennsylvania ACLU's deputy legal director, said the voters whose FieldWorks registrations were found to be valid would "have their right to vote burdened" if they were forced to cast provisional ballots. But election officials said their decision would allow "good faith" registrants to vote.

Michael Power, an attorney representing the Delaware County Democratic Party, urged the panel to allow all the people registered by FieldWorks to vote.

"I think it's important that when you're talking about voter registration and voting rights in general that every single presumption, every inference, has to be made in support of the voter and the right to vote and the right to register," he said.

Andy Reilly, chairman of the Delaware County Republican Party, said he had wanted all of the FieldWorks applications held until next election but understood the panel's decision.