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Sunday, July 25, 2004

ACLU Punch-Card Suit in OH Goes to Trial

Posted by DavidNYC

You probably remember that the CEO of the infamous Diebold, Inc. said last summer that he was "committed to helping Ohio deliver its electoral votes to the president next year." So it may or may not come as good news to you that the ACLU is currently suing the Ohio Secretary of State over the fact that many poorer (often heavily minority) communities are still using punch cards. Most electronic voting machines don't leave paper trails, but on the flip-side, punch cards have a higher error rate (see: chad - hanging, pregnant, dimpled, etc.). The ACLU is saying that this constitutes an equal-protection & Voting Righs Act violation, because more minority voters are likely to be disenfranchised.

On balance, I think if the ACLU prevails, it would be a good thing. ACLU research has shown that punch-card counties have had a ballot rejection rate six times higher than touch-screen counties. And in some minority neighborhoods around Akron, the rejection rate was up to 15%.

The ACLU actually filed this class-action suit (known as Stewart v. Blackwell) back in the fall of 2002, and the trial is finally set to start Monday. It's not clear to me how long it's expected to last, but given the obvious time constraints, I'd presume that some sort of conclusion will be reached soon. The fallout could be pretty immense, though - if punch-card systems are invalidated, I have no idea how Ohio would be able to comply with the ruling on such short notice.

While I was researching this case, I happened across a blog called "Equal Vote." It's run by an OSU Law prof. named Dan Tokaji who specializes in voting rights & voting technology. He's also co-counsel for the ACLU on this case, so if you're interested in following the developments, I'll bet that Prof. Tokaji will be covering it.

Posted at 08:54 PM in Ohio | Technorati