More Pro-Voter Legal Decisions in Swing States

There were two important legal decisions on Wednesday that should help voters in Pennsylvania and Ohio.

In Pennsylvania, a federal district court ordered Secretary of the Commonwealth Pedro Cortes, a Democrat, to provide backup paper ballots if at least half of the voting machines break down in a precinct. Voting rights activists had sued the state, saying the ballots were needed because of voting machine problems during the 2008 primary, particularly in low-income neighborhoods. The plaintiffs presented their testimony at an eight hour hearing Tuesday.

"This is a huge victory for the voters of Pennsylvania," said John Bonifaz, legal director for Voter Action and co-counsel for the plaintiffs. "This ruling will ensure that many voters across Pennsylvania will not be disenfranchised when voting machines break down on Election Day."

The court's opinion and order said:

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).
The coalition that sued the state included Voter Action, the NAACP Conference of Pennsylvania, the Election Reform Network, The Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia and other private attorneys.

Meanwhile, the New York Times is reporting that the Justice Department will not push the state of Ohio to reveal the names of voters "whose registration applications did not match other government databases."

"The decision comes about a week after an unusual request from President Bush asking the department to investigate the matter and roughly two weeks after the Supreme Court dismissed a case involving the flagged registration applications," the Times' Caucus blog reported.

Ohio election officials contacted earlier in the day by AlterNet said the same thing, noting that career attorneys at the Justice Department -- who either would be leaving the government or seeking to stay on during the next administration -- would not want to put their careers at risk by pursuing such an overtly partisan intervention, despite pressure from the White House and congressional Republicans.

The bottom line in both these developments is the rights of voters, particularly in swing states, appear to be trumping partisan considerations or known shortcomings of the voting machinery.

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