Thursday, April 19, 2007

PA Judges: Voting Machines Certification Lawsuit Can Proceed

Voting machine lawsuit proceeds
State sought to have complaint dismissed
Saturday, April 14, 2007
By James O'Toole, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Commonwealth Court has rejected the state's objections to a suit challenging the testing and use of new electronic voting machines, including those recently adopted in Allegheny County.

The court, on 4-3 vote, allowed the suit to proceed as it dismissed 16 preliminary objections filed by attorneys for Secretary of the Commonwealth Pedro Cortez, who, in his role as the state's chief elections official, had certified the direct electronic voting systems whose reliability the plaintiffs attack. Among the systems in question are the iVotronic touch screen machines used for the first time in Allegheny County last year.

The plaintiffs, echoing the complaints of activists and voting watchdog groups across the country, maintain that the newer machines place reliable elections at risk by failing to produce a paper record that can be verified by the voter. The suit includes a litany of examples of voting machine mistakes and anomalies in elections across the country. Among them was the apparent under-count of thousands of votes in a disputed Florida congressional election last November.

In a statement responding to the ruling, Mr. Cortes emphasized that it had dealt solely with preliminary legal issues.

"The court's decision was not a final determination of the facts of the case," he said.

The majority opinion of the narrowly divided court, however, suggested some sympathy with the plaintiff's contentions. Written by Judge Rochelle Friedman, the opinion notes that a variety of the systems certified by Mr. Cortes, "produce no contemporaneous external paper record that would allow voters to verify that their votes were counted accurately.''

The ruling also faults the state elections department for failing to establish uniform testing criteria for the machines, thus denying voters a benchmark for challenging certification procedures.

The three dissenters, who joined in an opinion written by Judge Mary Hannah Leavitt, rejected the plaintiffs' arguments along with the rationale of most of the majority opinion. The minority said Mr. Cortes acted within his discretion in certifying the machines...



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