"What's black and white and read all over?"

Wednesday, March 01, 2006
Posted 9:51 PM by

Paper or plastic?

To get new electronic voting machines, Pa. counties are obligated by the state constitution to put it to a vote - using their old lever machines or paper ballots.Proving once again that they can't fight their way out of a paper bag, county officials in Pennsylvania took their fight to buy new electronic voting machines to the state Supreme Court today.

Buying new plastic machines to replace old lever-based metal behomeths and paper punch cards seems like such a simple thing, especially since a 2002 federal law requires 35 of the state's 51 counties - including Bucks County - to make the switch.

There's just one catch.

The federal Help America Vote Act conflicts with Pennsylvania's state constitution, which requires counties to put any change in voting system to a vote using the old machines.

And the U.S. Justice Department has told the state it has authorized a lawsuit to force Pennsylvania to comply with the law and that neither paper ballots nor lever machines would satisfy a provision of the law that requires voting places to be accessible to disabled voters.

The simple solution would be for Gov. Ed Rendell to step in, ask the Feds for a stay on their suit and force the counties to put the issue on their ballots in the May primary.

Rendell should have done that immediately after Commonwealth Court Judge Dan Pellegrini recently halted - at least temporarily - Westmoreland County's plans to replace its machines.

Instead, the county election board and state elections officials told the Supreme Court there is not enough time to hold a referendum and replace the older systems before the primary.

They also rejected Pellegrini's suggestion that they simply use the old machines for state and local elections - including the governor's race - and paper ballots for the federal ones.

"Imagine when that election will be certified," Mark Aronchick, a private attorney hired by the state, said Wednesday.

Justice Sandra Schultz Newman agreed, "In reality, paper ballots in 24 counties seems to me would wreak havoc."
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