ACLU of Southern CA Appeals Punch Card Voting Case, Saying Error-Prone Machines Will Lead to Voter Disenfranchisement and "Florida-Style" Election Debacle

August 27, 2003 12:00 am

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ACLU of Southern CA Appeals Punch Card Voting Case, Saying Error-Prone Machines Will Lead to Voter Disenfranchisement and “Florida-Style” Election Debacle


LOS ANGELES – The American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California today asked a federal appeals court to review a lower court’s refusal to postpone the October 7 gubernatorial recall election until all of the state’s outmoded “punch card” voting machines can be replaced.

“This is not merely about a recall election,” said Mark Rosenbaum, Legal Director of the ACLU of Southern California. “This is about having every vote counted. Voting machines are the infrastructure of our democracy. Right now, the integrity of our state’s democracy is riding on the performance of these outdated, obsolete, and decertified voting machines – the same voting machines at the center of the 2000 Florida election debacle.”

The ACLU has not taken a position on the recall itself.

The ACLU filed the case, Southwest Voter Registration Education Project (SVREP) et al. v. Shelley earlier this month on behalf of SVREP, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Greater Los Angeles, and the NAACP California State Conference of Branches, saying that the use of “punch card” voting machines in the upcoming election would lead to widespread disenfranchisement of voters residing in counties that are still using those machines.

Last week, a federal judge refused to postpone the recall election and the vote on two critical ballot initiatives until all of California’s “punch card” machines could be replaced. Six California counties currently use the outdated machines, which will be replaced, by court order, no later than March 1, 2004.

“The claims we make in our appeal are as strong today as they were last week, indeed even more so,” Rosenbaum said. “If the election goes forward as scheduled on October 7, 2003, we know with certainty that tens of thousands of votes will not be counted.”

The ACLU’s lawsuit follows an earlier legal action that resulted in a court-ordered “consent decree” requiring California to replace all “punch card” machines no later than March 1, 2004.

The six counties still using “punch card” voting machines are: Los Angeles, Mendocino, Sacramento, San Diego, Santa Clara, and Solano.

The appeal emphasized that the October 7 vote would include a racially charged ballot initiative, Proposition 54, which would prohibit the state from collecting or retaining racial and ethnic data about health care, hate crimes, racial profiling, public education and public safety. A vote on this initiative is particularly troubling, the ACLU said, since minority voters would be disproportionately disenfranchised by the defective machinery. People of color — including African Americans, Latinos and Asian Americans — constitute 46 percent of the population of the six counties using “punch card” voting machines, but only 32 percent of the population of counties using other, more reliable types of equipment.

Harvard law professor and noted constitutional scholar Laurence Tribe and University of Southern California law professor Erwin Chemerinsky have joined the ACLU in filing the appeal.

The ACLU’s legal papers, filed before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, are online at /node/35077.

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