Philadelphia Reinstates Poll Book Reconciliation Following Pressure From Lawsuit

WASHINGTON, D.C. — During an emergency early morning meeting on Tuesday, Nov. 8, Philadelphia’s three-member election board voted 2-1 to reinstate poll book reconciliation after a court rejected a lawsuit to force the commissioners to do so. Poll book reconciliation is the process of amending the poll book to denote if a voter has voted by mail; it is a time-consuming process that slows down the reporting of election results if it’s conducted before vote counting. Today’s sharp reversal in plans comes less than a week after the commission voted to alter its poll book reconciliation and following a lawsuit that tried to force the commissioners to reinstate the process. 

On Oct. 27, amid murmurs that Philadelphia might alter its poll book reconciliation, a right-wing lawsuit was filed to prevent Philadelphia from making such changes in the Nov. 8 midterm elections, arguing that, in doing so, the commissioners were “invit[ing] double-votes by mail-in/absentee electors.” Then, on Nov. 2, the city of Philadelphia — coterminous with Philadelphia County — publicly announced its decision to scale back poll book reconciliation. Notably, this decision simply put the city in line with how other Pennsylvania counties conduct the process: after votes are counted as to not delay the results. Philadelphia’s sole Republican commissioner, Seth Bluestein, critiqued this lawsuit: “Republicans targeted Philadelphia — and only Philadelphia — to force us to conduct a procedure that no other county does.” 

Yesterday, Nov. 7, a judge rejected the lawsuit on the basis that it was too late to force Philadelphia to reinstate poll book procedures, writing that it “is not remotely feasible at this late date.” However, in the order, the judge also denounced the Philadelphia commissioners and criticized the move to alter the poll book procedures as “erroneous” and “unwise.” In response to yesterday’s order, Bluestein told the Philadelphia Inquirer: “While we technically won the court case in Common Pleas Court, the opinion…was written in a way that we have no other choice but to go forward and reinstate reconciliation.” So, despite prevailing in the lawsuit against them, two of the three city commissioners have taken it upon themselves to reinstate poll book reconciliation. 

The addition of a poll book reconciliation process in Pennsylvania’s largest city — but nowhere else — will slow down the counting of votes in the heavily Democratic city. This comes amid complaints from Republican officials that there is something nefarious about delayed results, though it was a Republican-funded lawsuit — sponsored by a right-wing legal group founded by Bill Barr, Karl Rove and others — that pushed the city to implement this procedure. 

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