by Karen Bojar

The Voter ID law has drawn attention to what has been a very low profile position: the judge of elections.

In each division, the judge of elections resolves disputes and makes determinations about voter eligibility in areas where the law is ambiguous. For example, if the name on a voter’s photo ID (Mary Jane Smith) doesn’t match the voter’s name as recorded in the voter rolls (M. Jane Smith), the judge of elections determines whether the names are “substantially the same.” If so, Ms. Smith can vote.

Some cases as to what is “substantially the same” are clear-cut; others are not. What is clear is that with that the Voter ID law, the position of judge of elections has become much more important. The majority and minority inspectors also play an important role in ensuring fair, well-run elections.

Fortunately, the new Voter ID law was not implemented for the November election. The law is unnecessary and often referred to as a solution in search of a problem. It will be back for the 2013 primary, however, unless successfully challenged in court. It is thus more important than ever that we have fair-minded well qualified judges of election at every polling place.

The Philadelphia Chapters of the National Organization for Women and the Coalition of Labor Union Women, supported by a grant from the Bread and Roses Community Fund, have held nonpartisan workshops on Running for Election Board/Committeeperson.

The first workshop was held on Jan. 14 and much to our surprise drew a crowd of about 100 interested citizens. The principal speaker was City Commissioner Stephanie Singer. In addition, veteran Ninth Ward Election Board members Norman Matlock, Esq., judge of elections, and Nan Myers, majority inspector (both 9th Ward, 2nd Division) spoke about their experiences serving on the Election Board.

More surprising than the number of attendees was the intensity of their interest. They were seriously engaged by Singer’s lively, informative, and inspirational presentation. Nobody dozed off, despite the amount of technical detail. People seemed really hungry to learn how the election system works.

A link to the handbook distributed at the workshops is posted on the front page of www.phillynow.org and www.patransparency.org

The divisions in the Ninth Ward functioned reasonably well in the 2012 General Election. On a city-wide basis, however, many neighborhoods lack a stable, well-functioning Election Board. This may be one of the reasons so many voters had to cast provisional ballots.

Thanks to the positive responses received so far, a third workshop is scheduled for Monday, Feb. 11, at the University of the Sciences, 47th Street and Woodland Avenue. from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. On Wednesday, Feb. 13 a final workshop will be held at 1606 Walnut St.from 5:30-7:30 p.m. Nominating petitions will be distributed and the specific rules for circulating and filing nominating petitions will be discussed.

For more information please contact me at kbojar1@verizon.net, Kathy Black at kblackphilly@yahoo.com, or Tracey Gordon at Tracey.Gordon@phila.gov.

Karen Bojar is past president of Philadelphia NOW and a Democratic committeeperson in the 9th ward, 2nd division.