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Wednesday, April 12, 2006
Posted 8:51 PM by

Federal lawsuit filed over new voting machines

Allegheny County's purchase of 4,700 touch-screen voting machines today for $12 million immediately prompted a federal lawsuit that warns the change could result in bedlam.I'm not the only one to see big problems ahead.

As if on cue, state, federal and Allegheny County officials were sued today in federal court over that county's proposed change of voting machines - one day after some voters used old machines to pick a replacement for disgraced former state Rep. Jeff Habay.

The lawsuit alleges that the county's proposed purchase of 4,700 iVotronic machines from Omaha, Neb.-based Election Systems & Software for nearly $12 million today was so rushed that serious election day problems can be expected, according to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.

"We could have bedlam in this election in May, the sort of thing you saw in Florida in 2000," said lawyer Harry Litman, a former U.S. Attorney for Western Pennsylvania who filed the suit on behalf of People for the American Way and seven voters.

The same machines Allegheny County bought drew the ire of Miami-Dade County officials - home of the world-famous hanging chad - for a "serious bug" in their software that results in votes potentially being lost and machines not being accounted for in the system's self-generated post-election audit.

Isn't that what the federal Help America Vote Act was supposed to prevent? The Act provided $135 million to Pennsylvania counties to help pay for new machines so long as they were in place by this year's primary.

However, the state's Constitution requires that any change of voting machines first be approved by referendum using the old machines

It's been more than a month, but voters stil don't know why the state Supreme Court ordered the change of voting machines was legal despite a Constitutional requirement that any change be put to a referendum.Voters still don't know why the state Supreme Court reversed a Commonwealth Court decision that purchasing new machines without a referendum would be illegal. As I reported yesterday, the justices have yet to file a full written opinion justifying their March 2 order.

Despite the millions of dollars at stake, the new lawsuit asks a judge to order the county to use lever machines in the primary and general election.

There was apparently nothing wrong with them Tuesday when they were used in a special election. Democrat Shawn Flaherty, the son of the late Allegheny County commissioner and Pittsburgh Mayor Pete Flaherty, beat Republican Mike Dolan by just 108 votes, 5,545 to 5,437, according to unoffical returns.

If the tally holds up after a review by the county elections board on Friday and possible court challenges by Dolan, Flaherty, 46, of Fox Chapel, will serve the remaining 8 1/2 months of Habay's term.

Habay, 39, resigned Feb. 8 after he was sentenced to six to 12 months in jail for using his office staff to do campaign work on state time. He is free on bond because he is also awaiting trial on other charges including allegedly making a false report of a fake anthrax threat.

Habay was first elected in the 30th District in 1994. The district includes Hampton, Fox Chapel, and parts of Ross, O'Hara and Shaler townships, all suburbs north and east of Pittsburgh.

The race to replace him was marred by mudslinging.

Democrat Shawn Flaherty was elected as the state representative for the 30th district despite having a child out of wedlock.Flaherty announced during a news conference in March that he had a child 14 years ago with another woman while he and his wife were separated.

Dolan, who admitted learning of Flaherty's out-of-wedlock kid illegally through family court records, took heat for his own court record which stems from his college days.

While attending Penn State, Dolan pleaded guilty to three charges and was found guilty of two others from 1997 to 2000, including two charges of disorderly conduct and one charge each of purchase or consumption of alcohol by a minor, criminal mischief and public drunkenness, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reported, citing Centre County court records. All were summary offenses.

Both guys vowed to bring integrity back to Harrisbugh but either would fit right in with the bunch of twits we have there now. With Flaherty's win, Democrats picked up a seat in the Republican-dominated state House but still trail, 109 seats to 94.


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