In Penn., where to vote's a poorly kept secret

Note: The governor rescinded the policy Friday after the story broke.

I never thought of Pennsylvania as a particularly nutty place. You can’t get much more sober and sane than Philly’s Main Line neighborhoods, Pittsburgh’s serious steel making and the Amish, for heaven’s sake.

But the people running the state’s elections, bolstered by equally nutty folks at the state police, Emergency Management Agency and the state Office of Homeland Security, have lost their marbles!

As reported in USAToday, "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 officials noted that terrorists bombed Madrid commuter trains shortly before Spain’s national election in 2004.

So the logic goes like this: because a transportation hub in a major European capital city was bombed three years ago (probably by al-Qaeda, but no one claimed responsibility) before a national election,  then Earl Smoot, formerly of Palmerton, Penn., but who has now moved to Sewickley, cannot have a list of where, in his new hometown, people will be going to vote for statewide and local elections.

Or is this the logic? Because of possible -- not probable and not threatened -- terrorist attack, citizens in the home state of the Continental Congress and the Liberty Bell cannot easily learn where to vote.

But wait! The election officials have a solution! We won’t give you a list of polling places, but you can go to our Web site! Or, if you don’t have Internet access, you can call your local election bureaus!

Usually, we see government officials wanting to keep information OFF of Web sites, for fear that some terrorist in Afghanistan is jammy-surfing for future targets.

VCOG frequently has to make the argument that electronic records should be treated the same way as paper records. In Pennsylvania, access advocates will have to argue the opposite.

One such activist (OK, she’s a consultant for political campaigns and non-profit groups) is thinking of challenging the decision, noting that lists are used to help candidates coordinate get-out-the-vote efforts. Not to mention the last-minute campaigning done by volunteers at every polling location.

And as for calling the local election bureaus, is that really going to solve the problem, as the officials have defined it? "Hello, my name is Osama bin-Laden, oh, I mean Earl Smoot. Can you tell me the voting locations in Sewickley?

Or, if bin-Laden isn’t posing as Earl Smoot, maybe Earl Smoot is an al-Qaedea sympathizer. "Yo,  Osama, you’ll never guess what great piece of information I have for you." (Followed quickly by "Well, thanks, Earl, but we got this same information from the state Web site.")

Or what if Earl Smoot is a ticking time bomb as was Charles Chad Roberts, who shot nearly a dozen students in an Amish schoolhouse last fall?

I hate to sound insensitive to concerns for public safety, but it’s nothing short of appalling that THE most basic form of participation in democratic government is being sacrificed on the altar of fighting terrorists. Keeping polling locations under wraps is not going to stop any terrorist hell-bent on destroying American lives. A terrorist doesn’t need to know if citizens are using the local high school as a polling place to wreak havoc: the terrorist would create far more destruction blowing up a local high, bridge, bus terminal or train station (that’s what happened in Madrid).

Keeping these lists pseudo-confidential will not make people safer, but it will keep some citizens in Pennsylvania in the dark and unable to exercise one of the true hallmarks of America: the right to vote.


p.s. In Virginia, according to Rosanna Bencoach of the State Board of Elections: "If anyone asks for it, we provide either a printout or electronic version, as requested.  No one's requested one in awhile. The full list of polling places will be put up on the website before election day."

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