- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 25, 2004

CLEVELAND (AP) — Four years after Florida’s hanging chads captivated a nation and less than 100 days before what polls suggest as another tight presidential race, this swing state’s punch-card voting system is being challenged in court.

The trial, set to begin today, is the first in the nation, voting analysts say. Lawsuits filed by the American Civil Liberties Union against several other states have been settled with agreements that punch-card ballots will be replaced.

But a victory by the ACLU in Ohio would be unlikely to change things before this year’s presidential election because there likely would be too little time to make a conversion.

The ACLU wants all punch-card balloting in the state ended before November, saying the system is antiquated and causes errors that lead to undercounting of minority group votes.

“From our point of view, the case is about providing a system for registering and counting votes in the state that is as reliable as possible in a system that treats every voter the same way,” said Richard Saphire, a University of Dayton law professor working on the ACLU case.



Ohio is one of a few states that still use punch cards. The ballots are used in 69 of Ohio’s 88 counties, representing nearly 73 percent of registered voters.

The ACLU argues that these ballots are more likely to go uncounted than votes cast with other systems, and that use of the ballots violates the voting rights of blacks, most of whom live in punch-card counties. The lawsuit claims the system violates the 14th Amendment, which guarantees due process and equal protection.

The state says it is working as fast as it can to replace punch cards — but problems with electronic voting technology have stalled the effort.

“They’re claiming that the state has been denying the right to vote to African-Americans,” said Rich Coglianese, a lawyer defending the state. “It’s our position that the state has not denied the right to vote to anybody, and the evidence will never be able to show that.”

Michael Shamos, a Carnegie Mellon University computer scientist and voting technology consultant, said that although he believes “punch-card voting is the worst form of voting ever devised by mankind,” the ACLU will have a difficult time proving the constitutional issues.

“The reason for that is those machines are not racially specific, no one’s targeting certain minorities for the use of those machines,” he said.

Punch-card balloting gained notoriety during the 2000 presidential election in Florida, where problems with the ballots led to 36 days of legal wrangling and recounts, until George W. Bush was declared the winner of the state by 537 votes, and thus took the White House.

Mr. Bush won Ohio by a larger margin, but in a poll last week of Ohio voters by the American Research Group, he was tied with Democratic nominee John Kerry.

Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell said earlier this month that three counties that were considering electronic systems cannot switch by November because tests revealed security problems.

Blackwell spokesman Carlo LoParo said Friday that the agency hopes to have electronic voting that meets security requirements in place by 2005.

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