Thursday, May 18, 2006

Hundreds of voting machines in city fail
Hundreds of voting machines in city fail

Philadelphia, PA
Despite a couple hard-fought state House battles, on a light-turnout Primary Election Day, the only thing people wanted to smash were the voting machines. Hundreds failed across the city. Repair crews were unable to get to some polling places until late afternoon.

"I came to vote at a quarter after 7 [yesterday morning] and they told me to come back because the machine was broken," said Jenn Richards, of Port Richmond, who votes at Verello's Cafe, Aramingo Avenue and Willard Street. "I came back at 4:30 and it was still broken. They asked us to vote by paper ballot, but none of the people wanted to, so they just left."

Gabrielle Cianfrani, election judge at the Weccacoe Rec Center, 4th and Catharine, said the second voter there caused a breakdown in one machine when he tried to cast a write-in vote.

"So we moved him to the second machine and the same thing happened," said Cianfrani, daughter of the late state Sen. Buddy Cianfrani.

Voters used paper provisional ballots - usually reserved for voters whose names are not in the registration binders - until repairs were done at 3 p.m.

"It seems to be related to the paper roll [which is used to tally votes] and the little door that closes over it at the back of the machine," said Renee Tartaglione, deputy city commissioner,who said that between 200 and 300 of the more than 3,000 machines broke down.

Tartaglione said that when election judges opened the machines, in some cases the paper began spilling out of the write-in window in the front.

"So they shut off the machine, but when they tried to turn them back on they didn't work," Tartaglione said.

One theory is that the screws that close the door covering the paper roll may have been tightened too far, Tartaglione said.

"But we won't know for sure until we do a full assessment," she said. The five-year-old machines have had no major problems in prior elections.

DiCicco: Signs, but not on ballot

The dirtiest trick in the election didn't involve a candidate.

Overnight, red signs sprouted on utility poles from Kensington to South Philadelphia reading, "DiCicco Casino Flunky?"

Councilman Frank DiCicco blamed Eddie Kirlin, whom he called "director of arts and crafts for Local 98" of the Electricians Union, headed by DiCicco rival John Dougherty.

Kirlin has dogged DiCicco at community meetings trying to tie him to casino interests, when DiCicco says he's advocated a careful, studied approach to riverfront development.

"This is more political nonsense that just doesn't end," DiCicco said. "They've been out to get me for six years and it hasn't worked. Let's see what happens next year," when DiCicco runs for re-election.

Kirlin, in mock shock, said he saw the signs and "I couldn't believe my eyes. He's got two real-estate jobs, got his own company, he moonlights as a councilman and now he's running for casino flunky? I didn't know there was such a position."

Dougherty, meanwhile, said he had nothing to do with the stunt.

"I heard something about it, but haven't seen anything," he said. "Eddie [Kirlin] hasn't worked for Local 98 for two years."

Write-in wrongs

The write-in try for state House candidate Emilio Vazquez against Tony Payton Jr. in North Philly's 179th District crossed the line, some witnesses say. Some ward leaders backing Vazquez supplied election judges with rubber stamps, which were distributed inside the polling places to allow voters to easily write in Vazquez. That is illegal.

"I heard about some real shaky stuff," said Rafael Collazo. "My father took my grandmother to vote at Taylor Elementary School [Randolph and Erie] and they were handing out [Vazquez] stamps inside the polling place."

Kathryn Erby, a committeewoman supporting Payton, said the Vazquez stamps also played havoc with voting at McClure School, 6th and Hunting Park.

"I had four machines break down today because of that stamp they are handing out," Erby said.

Graboyes: Coalition doesn't help

Terry Graboyes had the broadest base of support in the wide-open Democratic primary fight for the 175th state House District, but it didn't do her much good.

Mike O'Brien held a steady lead late last night in the district, which extends from South Philadelphia to Kensington.

Gov. Rendell, D.A. Lynne Abraham, state Sen. Vince Fumo and the Carpenters Union were among Graboyes' heavyweight backers. More interesting, however, were Parking Authority chairman Joe Ashdale and House Speaker John Perzel. They are Republicans.


"She's a member of our union," said Ashdale, head of the Glaziers Union. "It's not about party. Most of our members are Democrats."

Parking Authority employees were also out in force for Graboyes. In the end, her chances were undercut by progressive candidate Anne Dicker who ran a strong race without traditional power brokers on her side.

Staff writers Gar Joseph, Tom Schmidt and Dave Davies contributed to this report.