KU Polling Place Change Stirs Controversy

Kutztown University isn’t actually in Kutztown but Maxatawny Township and students there have been voting on campus for a number of years.  The poll has been in the lobby and hallway of an athletic building with ample parking just outside.  It seems numerous complaints over the years from voters and poll workers prompted the Berks County Elections Commissioner Deb Olivieri to finally move the precinct four miles away to the Township building.  This happened when a suitable polling place became available for Maxatawny 1 which had been in the township building (out of the precinct) and now is in a church within its precinct.

Olivieri notified Tom Herman, Chair of the Berks County Democratic Committee, of the proposed switch on July 19th and on August 8th the County Commissioners (two Republicans and a Democrat often referred to as “the third Republican”) sitting as the Board of Elections approved the change.  Since then allegations of voter suppression arose as local Democrats saw the switch as an attempt to limit voter participation by KU students.

On the surface that might appear so as registered voters in Maxatawny 3 are comprised of 72% students at the University.  However when one looks at actual voter turnout it is abysmal except in presidential years.  In 2010 227 voters turned out but only 3 in that year’s primary.   2011 had 2 primary voters and 5 in the general.  2012 had 10 primary voters and 943 for the presidential general election.  This spring just one voter turned out for the primary.

As Commissioners Chair Christian Leinbach correctly pointed out college students generally have no interest in local municipal elections so those turnouts are very bad.  They do have interest in presidential races however and that is when KU students do turn out in large numbers.  Moving the precinct off campus and four miles away will have an effect in those races.  KU President Javier Cevallos has promised the Board the University will provide shuttle service to the polling place.  As long as the students are adequately informed about that availability I don’t this being a huge issue.

I’ve known Olivieri for years and she is a thorough and capable elections director and doesn’t do things on a partisan basis.   The thought that a Democrat would decide to disenfranchise fellow Democratic voters doesn’t make sense.  Berks County Democratic Chair Tom Herman had ample notice of the proposed change and had no reaction until after the fact and then shamelessly accused Olivieri of voter suppression.

The facts show that over eight years only 33% of the voter turnout in Max 3 were KU students.  If they really want a campus polling place perhaps they should vote more often and be more involved in the process.  I visit this polling place on election days because a local GOP committee person is known to practice active voter suppression there (like telling students if they vote they’ll lose their student aid) and I want to report on it if and when it occurs.  I never have trouble finding parking but have no personal knowledge of the physical facility because I don’t enter it.  I do know a lot of foot traffic into and out of the building are football players reporting for practice and other normal student activity not related to voting.  If this presents problems for poll workers moving the poll might make sense.  Olivieri obviously sincerely thought this change would be good.  Time will tell.

Update:  The numbers provided by Berks County Commissioner Christian Leinbach, which I quoted here, are NOT accurate according to the County’s own website.  For example, in the 2011 primary election Leinbach himself garnered 94 votes at Maxatawny 3.  I am trying to contact him for an explanation.

Update II:  Leinbach is claiming his numbers were for registered students on campus only.  He presented them as voter turnout figures.  I will check the video for exact quotes.  If he intentionally misrepresented these numbers at a public, televised meeting to justify previous actions this is a serious matter.

News & Notes February 25, 2011

Thanks again to Berks County Commissioner Kevin Barnhardt for sitting down with Kirk and me last evening for a lengthy conversation.  The County’s Open Records Compliance Officer contacted me today about emailing the requested information.

The President just announced sanctions against Libya for the brutal treatment of its citizens.  Prior to the evacuation of Americans there was little he could do for fear Ghaddafi would seize them to use as human shields.

Fox News Director Roger Ailes was implicated in a legal case where he told a News Corp executive (Judith Regan) to lie about her affair with Bernard Kerik.  George W. Bush was seeking to nominate Kerik (now in federal prison) as Director of Homeland Security.  Meanwhile leaked emails keep exposing Fox for slanting and fabricating the news.  Surprise, surprise…

Generals Stanley McChrystal and David Petraeus has been exposed by The Rolling Stone for using psy ops propaganda against Senators, Members of Congress and other VIP’s visiting his war zones.  Use of such methods against U.S. citizens is expressly forbidden under law.  The magazine remains one of a handful of journalism publications still doing in depth investigative reporting.  Maybe now we know why John McCain went batshit crazy.

The President of Penn Democrats threw a tough question at Newt Gingrich this week:

The Maryland Senate passed a bill yesterday legalizing marriage equality.  Elkton may once again be a marriage mecca.

An attendee at a Congressional town hall in Georgia asked when someone is going to shoot the president.  The Congressman thought it funny and chuckled.  It took him three days to make a statement.  This is the mentality which got Gabrielle Giffords shot and six people killed.

News & Notes January 18, 2011

I attended Berks County Commissioner Kevin Barnhardt’s re-election announcement yesterday in West Reading.  GNA Pizza was filled to capacity with local big wigs.  The only county wide elected officials not in attendance were fellow Commish Mark Scott and Register of Wills Larry Medaglia.  Other than that it was a love fest as people ate off dirty plates listening to Kevin announce there would be both a tax increase and a reassessment in the next four years.

There was a lot of talk about the selection processes for the 11th Senate special election.  Both Judy Schwank and Dante Santoni Jr. seem to want the nomination for Democrats.  Scuttlebut seems to be that either Medaglia or Michael Rivera of the Chamber of Commerce will get the GOP nod.   I’ll be in Pittsburgh this weekend so Kirk will at the Democratic meeting Saturday with a copy of the DNC Charter and my Flip camera to record whatever happens.  If he is not allowed in there will be a formal complaint filed with the Democratic National Committee.

Tom Corbett gets sworn in today as Pennsylvania’s new Governor.  He certainly didn’t get good weather for his big day.  This should ensure me great blogging topics for the next four years.

Meanwhile Republicans in Washington are set to repeal the Affordable Care Act in the House.  It will go nowhere when it dies in either the Senate or the President’s desk but political theater is the real agenda here.  Repealing health care reform would mean 5,500,000 Pennsylvania residents would lose protection because they have pre-existing conditions.  Mike Huckabee doesn’t think anyone with a pre-existing condition should ever be covered.  He equates it with covering the barn with fire insurance after it burns down.  Isn’t it comforting to equate a child born with a heart defect with someone’s barn?  That’s what I call compassionate conservatism!

Dick Cheney was on TV this morning with his new mechanical heart.  I hope he’s enjoying his government health care because he’d be dead without it.