WASHINGTON – State officials have decided not to publicize their list of polling places in Pennsylvania, citing concerns that terrorists could disrupt elections in the commonwealth.
The Department of State made its decision as a result of terrorist bombings that occurred just days before Spain's national elections in 2004, spokeswoman Leslie Amoros said. Election officials consulted with state police, the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency and the state Office of Homeland Security.
"The agencies agreed it was appropriate not to release the statewide list to protect the public and the integrity of the voting process," Amoros said.
But critics say the policy runs afoul of the state's open records law and makes coordinating statewide voter-mobilization strategies more difficult for candidates and political action committees.
Stephanie Frank Singer, the founder of a Philadelphia consulting firm that provides customized lists and data collection for political campaigns and nonprofit groups, said she learned of the policy from an acquaintance whose request for the list was denied a few months ago. Singer said she is considering challenging the decision.
"If the government has a record, and has it in electronic form, they should release it to any citizen who requests it," Singer said.
Registered voters can find polling place information on the state's voter services Web site or by calling the state or their county elections bureau if they lack Internet access, Amoros said.
It's unclear how many other states compile similar lists, and whether the ones that do make them available to the public.
Obtaining a comprehensive list from the state makes it easier for candidates for statewide office to coordinate volunteer get-out-the-vote efforts, Singer said.
"A big part of (mobilizing voters) is keeping track of where polling places are, or when they change," Singer said.
Some campaigns may lack the manpower to gather the information on a county-by-county basis, and some counties are more helpful than others in providing polling place locations, she said.
A case in point this year is the anti-incumbent activist group PACleanSweep, which is urging voters to oust nearly all judges seeking retention because of the 2005 government pay raise debacle. The judges are being targeted because they did not repay their raises, which were passed and then quickly rescinded by the Legislature, but restored last year by a state Supreme Court ruling.
PACleanSweep founder Russ Diamond said the organization obtained a list of all polling places last year as part of its campaign against incumbent lawmakers, although he said state officials have since told him that was a mistake.
"My thought was, 'Well, the terrorists have won, and democracy takes a back seat,"' Diamond said.
Last year, Singer filed a Commonwealth Court lawsuit that sought to limit the cost of obtaining a list of registered Pennsylvania voters from the state. She withdrew the suit after the department agreed to charge a flat $20 fee for the whole list or any number of county lists; the cost was previously $20 per county, or $1,340 for a statewide list.
Singer said she has not decided how to proceed with seeking access to the list of polling places, but said she would likely file a request for the information under the Right-to-Know Law and appeal to Commonwealth Court if it is denied.