Wilkes-Barre, Times Leader
By JON FOX
Wednesday, November 03, 2004 Page: 5A
WILKES-BARRE – Hit by a flurry of early activity, the Luzerne County Bureau of Elections had quieted to a dull murmur of ticking clocks and ringing phones by early afternoon Tuesday.
“I think the storm has passed. At least I hope it has passed,” said bureau director Leonard Piazza.
By 7 a.m., 315 out of 316 polling places were up and running. A no-show judge of elections at one of the Wilkes-Barre precincts held up operations by half an hour, but by 7:45 a.m. all of the polls were open.
In his first election as the person in charge, Piazza was pleased the county hadn’t descended into a morass of partisan litigation.
“I’m relieved we aren’t having any attorney issues,” he said in the morning from his office desk, news radio squawking in the background and the muted voices of bureau clerks drifting in through his open door.
Up since 4 a.m. and in his office at Penn Place since 5 a.m., Piazza said the bumpiest patch came just as polls opened.
There were some problems with the vintage 1930 voting machines and some clashes between local judges of election and partisan poll watchers.
“The first couple of hours it’s wild, and then it stabilizes,” he said.
Despite the age of the voting machines – older than most of the electorate – many of the glitches were not mechanical.
“A lot of the machine problems in the morning are just operator-use problems,” Piazza said.
“Most of the other issues have been with these poll watchers. Both of the campaigns have a lot of these watchers.”
Some local election officials had perceived the actions of the watchers as interfering with the voting process. “The law allows watchers to be there, but there are restrictions on what they can and cannot do,” Piazza said. “Watchers should keep their mouths shut and their eyes open.”
By noon, things had slowed sufficiently to allow Piazza to drive to his own polling place and cast his vote. At the bureau, phones were still ringing, but bureau employees squirreled away in gray cubicles answered questions as they arose.
The day had quieted.
Wayward voters, confused where they should cast their ballots, trickled in and were set straight.
Reporters dropped by to interview Piazza, questions periodically interrupted by a jazzy song emanating from the cell phone clipped to his belt. And express-mail couriers dropped off bundles of domestic absentee ballots before the 8 p.m. deadline.
The absentee deadline had been extended until 5 p.m. on Nov. 10 for military personnel serving overseas.
Piazza stamped the time and date on the ballots as they were dropped off.
“Russia, nice,” he said, commenting on the return address. “We get them from all over. Italy, Russia, Japan. Here’s one from New Zealand. This one’s from Great Britain.”