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Citizen Mystery Shopper (Part 11)

On polling irregularities and Eagles parking mishaps

Several months ago, Citizen editor Larry Platt asked, “When was the last time you encountered the city bureaucracy and said to yourself, ‘Wow, what great customer service?’” As a result, we’ve taken a page from private industry and unleashed a team of mystery shoppers to interact with city service providers and report back on their experiences…the good, the bad, and the disfiguring. In this, an anonymous voter takes on misinformed poll workers and a local businessman takes on bad PPA ticket-writing.

Mystery Shopper Test #30: Voting

Steps taken:

  1. Around 6 p.m., I went to my polling place in South Philly, where I was the only person in line for Tuesday’s general election. All seemed to go smoothly.
  2. As I was leaving the booth, a lady walked in and told the poll workers her name. One found her on the list, and noticed she is registered “not affiliated,” or as an Independent.
  3. The poll worker told the voter: “You’re NA, so you can’t vote on anything except the ballot questions.” She then shouted the same thing to the worker at the machine, while the other two ladies working at the polling place nodded in agreement.
  4. This, I knew, was patently untrue. Tuesday’s balloting was a general election—not a primary, where only Democrats and Republicans can vote for their respective party’s candidates. The ladies at the poll did not seem like they were trying to be deceptive. They were, however, woefully uninformed.
  5. So I intervened. “It’s the general election,” I said. “She can vote for anything. It’s not the primary.”
  6. The poll workers looked at each other, and back at me, and said nothing. The voter, in line for a booth, thanked me.
  7. Just then, another voter walked in, also “unaffiliated.” Again, the worker shouted back to the machine operator. “Another NA!”
  8. Again, I intervened. “They can vote for all the offices. It’s only in the primary that party matters.”
  9. Again, they said nothing, though this time they did seem like they were thinking it over.
  10. After a few minutes, during which both voters indicated they knew their rights, I left.
  11. I called the County Board of Elections, which answered right away, to report the issue.
  12. After a few minutes, the representative figured out my District and Ward (which I did not know off hand), then took down my report.
  13. She asked me if the poll worker in question was the Judge of Elections. I, sadly, did not know the answer. Not only do I not know what my local Judge of Elections looks like, I do not know their name or even what they do. (Though, I gather, they did not do such a great job Tuesday.)
  14. Within minutes, she accurately took my report and promised to send it to the proper authorities.

Time Spent: 15 minutes

Result: Hopefully (hopefully?) the voters who came in after me were able to vote up and down the ballot. But it was already 6 p.m., just two hours before the polls closed. Who knows how many others were blocked from carrying out their civic duty because of ignorant poll workers?

Takeaways: Basic understanding of elections, the ballot and voting rights would seem to be a prerequisite for anyone working the polls—but this one instance in one polling place showed that is not always the case. And it showed how easy it is for voters who are themselves unclear about the process to get a full opportunity to exercise their rights. On the other hand, this is the first time I’ve had to call the Board of Elections and was very pleased with the service.

Lightning Bolt Rating:

Mystery Shopper Test #31: Parking in FDR for the Eagles game

The situation: Richard Binswanger, a local businessman and entrepreneur, drove from his home in the suburbs to the Eagles vs. Giants game on a beautiful sunny Sunday in September. Then he tried to park.

Steps taken:

  1. Rather than park at the stadium, Binswanger decided to park across the street, at FDR Park, where the city sets up overflow parking on game days.
  2. He paid $40 to the attendant at the front of the park, and drove towards the back. Binswanger, whose father helped start the Fairmount Park Conservancy, is happy to support the park, so doesn’t mind the fee.
  3. It was packed. Every parking spot and every inch of curb already had a car in it.
  4. At the very back, on a small inlet of grass, Binswanger saw three cars parked, with room for one more. He took the spot.
  5. After the Eagles victory, Binswanger got back to his car—and to a $101 parking ticket on his windshield. Under “Other” reason, the ticketer wrote “Parking on the grass.” The other three cars had similar tickets.
  6. Binswanger searched all around for a sign that said, “No Parking On the Grass.” There was none.
  7. Then he got mad. “That sounds like extortion to me,” he said later. “They get you in there, then find the little thing you’ve done wrong, when you have no choice, and get you for that.”
  8. Binswanger filed an appeal.
  9. A few days before the hearing, he drove back to FDR to again make sure there were no signs. Nope.
  10. At his hearing in early November, Binswanger waited an hour. Then he went into a small office, and started to explain what happened.
  11. The hearing officer dismissed the ticket immediately.
  12. She told Binswanger she agreed with him: She’d seen this before, and had no idea why the FDR Park ticketing officers thought they should be giving out tickets when drivers obviously were not doing anything wrong.

Time Spent: Besides the six weeks of waiting for a hearing, about 10 minutes of searching for a sign, and two hours total getting to, waiting for and being in the PPA hearing.

Result: Binswanger is in the clear, but wonders about the others. Did they decide to ignore or pay the ticket they got for the same thing?

Takeaways: “People are being taken advantage of by the city and whoever there made the decision to issue tickets,” Binswanger says. “This practice should be suspended and so should any issued tickets.”

Lightning bolt rating:

Photo: R. Nial Bradshaw/Flickr

The Philadelphia Citizen will only publish thoughtful, civil posts. We want to be a communal space. But that doesn’t mean you have a First Amendment right to be an idiot. Send us an insulting, offensive and/or wildly off-topic comment and not only will we refrain from posting it -- we will laugh at you before we hit delete.

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