Pennsylvania: Plaintiffs Claim Voting Machine Breakdowns And Long Lines Will Disenfranchise Voters
By Voter Action
October 23, 2008
'A Perfect Storm' Impacting The Right To Vote
A coalition of Pennsylvania voters and civil rights groups, led by the NAACP State Conference of Pennsylvania, filed a lawsuit today in federal court in Philadelphia seeking to ensure that voters receive emergency paper ballots on Election Day when 50% or more voting machines become inoperable at any polling site in the state. The lawsuit, filed against Pennsylvania Secretary of the Commonwealth Pedro A. Cortes, alleges that voters will be disenfranchised when they face the burden of having to wait hours in line, due to voting machine breakdowns, in order to exercise their constitutional right to vote.
"In Pennsylvania this year," the complaint states, "an unprecedented interest in voting, a record number of newly registered voters, and a well-established history of widespread electronic voting machine failures have converged to create a perfect storm that, left unaddressed, unquestionably will result in the disenfranchisement of substantial numbers of citizens."
The lawsuit follows numerous reports during Pennsylvania's primary election in April of voters facing long lines when electronic voting machines became inoperable at their polling sites. Voters called national election protection hotlines on primary day, including 866-MYVOTE1, reporting that election officials were not providing the safeguard of emergency paper ballots when voting machines malfunctioned. Callers stated that voters were told either to wait in line - sometimes for hours - or to come back later to vote. The reports revealed that many voters left their polling locations without casting their votes.
"Voters should not be forced to wait hours in line in order to exercise
their fundamental right to vote," says John Bonifaz, legal director for
Voter Action and co-counsel for the plaintiffs. "While the use of
electronic voting machines continues to pose a separate threat to the
integrity of the vote-counting process, federal court intervention is
necessary to ensure that voters will not be disenfranchised by long
lines on Election Day in Pennsylvania, when these machines become
"Pennsylvania's Secretary of the Commonwealth has issued a directive to
all Pennsylvania counties requiring that emergency paper ballots be
distributed only when 100% of voting machines malfunction on Election
Day," says Jonathan Abady, a partner at the New York-based law firm
Emery Celli Brinckerhoff & Abady, and co-counsel for the
plaintiffs. "If left unchanged, this standard will place an undue
burden on voters across the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania."
In his declaration filed with the lawsuit, J. Whyatt Mondesire, the
president of the NAACP State Conference of Pennsylvania, states: "One
of the major impediments to members exercising their right to vote is
the long lines frequently encountered on election day...Thousands of
members have faced serious delays in voting when machines have broken
down in the past and this problem will be much more severe this year
when unprecedented numbers of voters will be coming to the polls."
In addition to the NAACP State Conference of Pennsylvania, the
plaintiffs include individual voters who reported long lines and voting
machine breakdowns during the state's primary election in April, as
well as the Election Reform Network, a local election integrity
organization. The plaintiffs are represented by Voter Action, a
national voting rights organization, the law firm of Emery Cell
Brinckerhoff & Abady, and the Public Interest Law Center of
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