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.

Pennsylvania Progressive Summit 2012

This year’s Summit was another successful weekend of debates, workshops, reconnecting with old friends, making new friends and networking.  Held at the Pennsylvania Convention Center in Philadelphia it departed from the former format of being in a large hotel.  The expense of using the Convention Center precluded having meals and speakers which detracted from much of the networking aspect.  The consensus was definitely to return to the style of Summit from 2010 in Harrisburg and 2011 in Pittsburgh.

The weekend kicked off with a debate between Attorney General candidates Kathleen Kane and Patrick Murphy at the Arch Street United Methodist Church.  Murphy won the straw poll following the debate with 56%.

Saturday morning I arrived at the registration desk and spoke with DFA’s Jim Dean for a bit, Jonathon Saidel (who coordinated much of the planning from Philly) and others.  A general meeting began at 9AM with Eileen Connolly, Chair of the Board of Keystone Progress and Mike Morrill its Executive Director.  The guest speaker was Wisconsin Sen. John Erpenbach one of the Wisconsin 14.  

Tables set up along the meeting concourse represented Summit sponsors and many progressive organizations, some local some national.  Workshops went for 75 minutes and ran the gamut.  In between I ran into old friends I hadn’t seen in years to those I see fairly regularly.  I sat in many workshops and learned a lot.  I also took pictures along the way.  Saturday evening began with a comedy show hosted by Sen. Daylin Leach and featuring comics Katie Halper, Lee Camp and Jeffrey Kreisler.  Lee Camp was absolutely hysterical.  Manan Trivedi hosted an after party at a karaoke bar in nearby Chinatown and Daylin Leach took everyone deep into the night with yet another party.

I got the killer time slot of Sunday at 9 AM for Video 101:  Media for Mobilizing.  Susie Madrak was down ill so the intrepid Beth Becker pinch hit and was wonderful assisting me.  Thanks to everyone who arose early to attend and the techies (Brett Banditelli) who got us going.

If you haven’t attended a Progressive Summit you’re missing a valuable tool for honing your skills, learning about tons of stuff useful in organizing and a golden opportunity to network with progressive leaders from across the state.  I had lunch Saturday with Josh Cook of the Obama campaign and Jesse Lee and Jon Carson, both fresh in from the White House.  Lee has been the blogger contact for President Obama so it was great to meet him personally even if only for  a few minutes.

The pictures from the weekend:

Jim Dean (Howard’s brother):

Eileen Connolly:

Mike Morrill:

The women’s health panel:

Panel on fracking:

The White House panel:

There was a great panel on dealing with activist burnout:

This panel was about lobbying from the legislator’s point of view:

Sen. Leach delivering a few zingers:

Katie Halper:

Lee Camp:

Jeff Kreisler: