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The Philadelphia Inquirer

Philly.com

 

Jan. 18, 2006

 

Lawsuit aimed at electronic voting

 

By Nancy Petersen

Inquirer Staff Writer

 

A citizens group in Bucks County filed a lawsuit yesterday in Commonwealth Court hoping to throw a wrench into the county's plans to replace its lever voting machines in time for the May 16 primary.

 

The action, filed by the Coalition for Voting alleges that the state is using inconsistent standards to certify which new computerized voting systems can be purchased by local counties. The suit claims the inconsistency is unconstitutional.

 

The group is essentially asking the court to waive the May deadline for getting a new voting system in operation, the group's Doylestown attorney, Lawrence Otter, said.

 

"We want the status quo preserved for the May 16 primary," Otter said. "I don't want to see the county get rushed into switching to a new system that is unreliable, and that is the most charitable description I have." The lawsuit could affect 23 other counties in the state that use lever voting systems.

 

A Department of State spokeswoman, Allison Hrestak, said the action is being reviewed by the department's legal staff. She said a similar lawsuit was filed last week by Westmoreland County. The department is responsible for certifying the new machines.

 

The coalition is also pushing for a paper back-up that voters could verify before casting a computerized ballot. The back-up could also be used to check votes in the event of a recount.

 

For the last several months, the Department of State has been determining which voting systems counties can buy to bring them into compliance with 2002's Help America Vote Act.

 

Pennsylvania's plan to comply with the federal law states that lever systems are incompatible with the statute, but Otter argues that is incorrect.

 

The lawsuit also states that during the process of testing one system, a Finnish security expert, Harri Hursti, was able to hack into the system and alter results.

 

The lawsuit states that Hursti has not been used during the testing of any of the other systems certified by the state.

 

Doug Chapin of electionline.org, a non-partisan clearing house for election-reform news that is funded by the Pew Charitable Trusts, said that lawsuits over state testing procedures could be the new front in a grassroots campaign against existing electronic voting systems.

 

"As more people become aware of the role of states in certification testing, this might not be the last lawsuit we see around the country," he said.

Contact staff writer Nancy Petersen at 610-701-7602 or npetersen@phillynews.com.

 

2006 Philadelphia Inquirer and wire service sources. All Rights Reserved.

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