Judge upholds Calif. voting order

A federal judge has ruled that California Secretary of State Kevin Shelley did not violate any laws when he issued orders that make it harder for counties to use touch-screen voting machines.

The judge denied motions for a temporary restraining order or preliminary injunction against Shelley. The motions were filed by the American Association of People with Disabilities and other plaintiffs as part of a lawsuit against Shelley.

Disability advocates are generally in favor of the touch-screen devices because they offer aid to both visually impaired and mobility-limited voters that other kinds of voting machines can't duplicate.

Citing security concerns, Shelley pulled the plug on Diebold Inc.'s Diebold Election Systems' Accuvote TSx electronic voting machine in April, revoking the conditional approval that the state had granted it. He also decertified all other touch-screen voting machines in the state, and developed a list of security measures that counties must take in order to use the machines this November.

He became concerned during the March 2 primary election, when malfunctioning touch-screen machines forced some polling places to open late.

In denying the motions, Judge Florence-Marie Cooper found that "the evidence does not support the conclusion that the elimination of the [machines] would have a discriminatory effect on the visually or manually impaired. Although it is not disputed that some disabled persons will be unable to vote independently and in private ... it is clear that they will not be deprived of the fundamental right to vote."

Cooper also rejected the plaintiff's argument that it would be impossible to equip the machines with voter-verified paper records by January 1, 2006. The Help America Vote Act of 2002 requires that polling places offer at least one touch-screen machine — or another system equipped for disabled voters — by that date. Shelley's April order makes the use of such a paper trail a requirement for touch-screen machines.

Therefore, the plaintiffs argued, Shelley's order will make it impossible for California counties to offer the federally mandated machines.

"The flaw in Plaintiff's argument, of course, is that it is based on speculation," the judge wrote. "No evidence has been presented to the Court to establish that it is impossible, or even difficult, for manufacturers of [touch-screen machines] to comply with HAVA's requirements."

Cooper cited the existence of several touch-screen models already equipped with the paper record ability.

"This decision is a landmark," said Cindy Cohn, legal director of the Electronic Frontier Foundation in a statement. "The court said, in clear, unambiguous terms, that requiring a paper trail for e-voting machines is consistent with the 'obligation to assure the accuracy of election results.' That's an enormous victory for secure elections."

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