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Judge Rules Yes On Emergency Paper Ballots In PA

BREAKING: Federal Judge Rules in Favor of Plaintiff Demand for Emergency Paper Ballots in PA

Ballots Must Given Out if 50% or More Voting Machines in Any Precinct Breaks Down

UPDATED: SoS Will Not Appeal Decision, But Statement from His Office Includes a Troubling Note...

By Brad Friedman, The BRAD BLOG

This just in from Pennsylvania... a federal court has found in favor of the NAACP and the 866-MYVOTE1 Election Reform Network who were forced to sue the state's Democratic Secretary of the Commonwealth, Pedro A. Cortes, after his recent directive that emergency paper ballots only need to be given to the voters in the event that all of a precinct's touch-screen voting machines failed.

Most of PA uses 100% unverifiable touch-screen voting systems, and many of them broke down across the state during last April's Primary Election, leaving untold numbers of voters unable to cast a vote.

As we reported when the lawsuit was filed last week, state law allows county clerks to give out paper ballots if just one machine breaks down on Election Day, Cortes' stunning decree, issued last month went unchallenged by both the DNC or the Barack Obama campaign...

We heard the news of the court's decision a few minutes ago from John Bonifaz of VoterAction.org, the election watchdog legal organization which represented the plaintiff coalition. In a statement just issued, Bonifaz said "This is a huge victory for the voters of Pennsylvania." He noted that "this ruling will ensure that many voters across Pennsylvania will not be disenfranchised when voting machines break down on Election Day."

The lawsuit [PDF], filed last week called for Emergency Paper Ballots to be issued in the event that a majority (50%) or more broke down. That, despite PA election (3031..20: Section 1120-A) which allows for such ballots to be given out [emphasis added] "If any electronic voting system or any component thereof being used in any election shall become inoperable."

Cortes' directive had stated that [emphasis added again] "if all electronic voting machines in a precinct are inoperable...'emergency back-up paper ballots' shall be distributed immediately to eligible voters."

From today's ruling [PDF], as posted at Rick Hasen's Election Law Blog:

(2) the Secretary of the Commonwealth, Pedro A. Cortes, is preliminarily ENJOINED to direct forthwith all the County Boards of Elections throughout Pennsylvania as follows:

If 50% of electronic voting machines in a precinct are inoperable, "paper ballots, either printed or written and of any suitable form," for registering votes (described herein as "emergency back-up paper ballots") shall be distributed immediately to eligible voters pursuant to section 1120-A(b) of the Election Code. Emergency back-up paper ballots shall be used thereafter until the county board of elections is able to make the necessary repairs to the machine(s) or is able to place into operation a suitable substitute machine(s);

Even as it doesn't go nearly far enough, today's ruling should be very good news for Keystone Staters who saw voting machine breakdowns all across the state during their Primary Election last Spring, as we documented in some detail while they were being reported from local election watchdogs.

It should also be noted that the state GOP, at one point last week, had filed a motion to intervene in the case, to take the side of state Democrats in trying to limit the use of emergency paper ballots. We mention that just to give you an idea of how shameful the state Democrats' directive was in the first place.

Finally, credit must be given to Mary Ann Gould, a PA election integrity advocate from the Coalition for Voting Integrity, and host of Philadelphia's "Voice of the Voters" radio program for her tireless efforts in helping to bring Cortes' disturbing decree to light. Her show is listener supported, and facing difficult times, so please consider dropping something in her tipjar over there to help keep her, and her important work, on the airwaves!

UPDATE: Cortes has just issued a statement to say that he will not appeal the courts decision. (See full statement at end of this article.)

While his statement says he will comply with the federal court order, it also notes [emphasis added]:

The department will work with county officials across the state to ensure the uniform application of this decision-that emergency paper ballots only be used when 50 percent of the voting machines malfunction or fail

As we've already noted above, PA Election Code allows for counties to give out emergency paper ballots "If any electronic voting system or any component thereof being used in any election shall become inoperable."

Does Cortes' statement mean that county clerks no longer are allowed to decide for themselves, but can only give out emergency paper ballot if 50% or more of the machines break down, instead of just one, as allowed by PA code? If so, that's quite disturbing.

No one answered the phone at the number given in the press release, but if we can learn anything, we'll update again.

The statement from the Cortes' office, in response to the ruling today in federal district court, follows in full below...

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE Oct. 29, 2008

COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA
Department of State
Commonwealth News Bureau
Room 308, Main Capitol Building
Harrisburg, PA 17120

CONTACT:
Leslie Amorós
Rebecca Halton
(717) 783-1621

SECRETARY CORTÉS RESPONDS TO COURT DECISION
Department Will Work with Counties to Prepare for Election Day

HARRISBURG - Secretary of the Commonwealth Pedro A. Cortés today issued the following response to a federal court's granting of a preliminary injunction that will require polling places in Pennsylvania counties to provide emergency paper ballots if 50 percent or more of their machines malfunction. Cortés said the department will not appeal the decision.

"We have reviewed the court's opinion and we will comply with its directive per their interpretation of the state election statute. The department will work with county officials across the state to ensure the uniform application of this decision-that emergency paper ballots only be used when 50 percent of the voting machines malfunction or fail-and that an adequate supply of emergency paper ballots is available.

"That said, we hope emergency paper ballots will not need to be used extensively on Election Day. Over the past four years, counties have put systems in place to remedy machine issues, including roving technicians and additional substitute voting machines.

"We share the plaintiffs' goal of ensuring that no eligible voter leaves the polls on Election Day without voting due to excessively long lines. In order to try to reduce the potential wait at the polls, the department has worked with counties to implement procedures to improve the sign-in process. An efficient sign-in process, including the use of split poll books-that is an alphabetical listing of voters from A-M and N-Z-will help move voters through the process faster. In addition, voters who want to avoid long lines are encouraged to vote mid-day during off-peak hours.

"Conducting a successful election requires proper training and clear procedures, and with this goal in mind, the department will issue a revised directive instructing the counties on how they should use emergency paper ballots when 50 percent or more of the voting systems malfunction. The department will work closely with the counties to ensure that the emergency paper ballots are administered in a consistent manner statewide."

*************

ENDS

More Articles By Brad Friedman

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