NORRISTOWN -- Montgomery County's voter services department is already planning for November's presidential election.

"We are looking forward to another really big challenge in November and we will be ready for it," county voter services Director Joseph R. Passarella recently told the county commissioners.

With a large turnout expected, Passarella has proposed:

Offering a greater number of election official training classes.

Paying poll workers to attend the training sessions.

Redoubling efforts to get political parties and schools to assist in recruiting support personnel for under-staffed polls.

Increasing the number of vote machine technicians circulating in the county on Election Day.

Encouraging would-be voters to ascertain their voter registration status well ahead of Election Day.

Better promoting voter services' "Where Do I Vote" feature on its Web page. This feature confirms the voter's eligibility to vote, provides the voter's polling location and, if needed, can even provide a map and/or directions to the polling site.

These proposals were packaged in a detailed in-house review of the department's handling of this year's April 22 primary elections in which there was unprecedented interest in the Democratic contest that had U.S. Sens. Hillary Clinton of New York and Barack Obama of Illinois slugging it out for their party's presidential nomination.

The high interest in the battle attracted a record number of new registrations, party registration changes and absentee ballot requests for a primary election.

There were 11,823 new registrations and 21,607 party registration changes prior to the April elections.

On Election Day, 209,948 (about 40 percent) of the county's 485,373 voters eligible to vote in either the Democratic or Republican primary election cast their ballots. In 2000, 81,524 voters (16.52 percent) voted in the primary elections while the 2004 presidential primary elections attracted 131,560 voters (25.26 percent).

The voter services' report essentially gave department staff and poll workers a pat on the back.

"We are justifiably proud of not only the performance of voter services personnel, including the employees from other county departments, who devoted a lot of time and effort to make this primary a success but mostly to the poll workers at every precinct who showed nothing but dedication and patience on this very demanding day," Passarella said in the report.

The major problem experienced on Election Day involved voters who wanted to vote in the Democratic primary election but who were not eligible, according to the report.

Pennsylvania has a closed primary system in which only registered Democrats and Republicans can vote for their party's nominees. Many voters who were not registered Democrats wanted to vote in the Democratic primary election while others switched their party registration to Democratic but that registration change came after the primary election registration eligibility deadline, Passarella explained.

The report was harshly critical of the "watchdog" activities of the Election Reform Network, a grassroots citizens' organization that is strongly opposed to the county's electronic voting machines because they do not provide voters with paper confirmation of their votes and that has been visiting polls in recent years to determine what problems voters face.

The report said that this organization is prone to making "unsubstantiated allegations based on hearsay evidence."

"During Primary Election Day, voter services received many calls from members of Election Reform Network but, when the assertions were investigated, they were found to be baseless," the report said. "Because poll workers are the backbone of the election process, false accusations, besides being inappropriate, are not helpful to the Election Day process."

Attached was the voter services' response, paragraph by paragraph, to a series of alleged problems the group found during the primary election.

These problems included:

Voters told they could not vote because they were not on the rolls.

Election judges who failed to follow proper procedures.

Under-staffed polls.

County election staff who provided incorrect information.

Voting machines that did not properly operate.

The lack of signage indicating poll places.

Difficulty experienced by the public in trying to reach either the voter registration office or the election board by phone.

The responses refuted most of the allegations while providing explanations for the remaining few.

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