A coalition of Allegheny County residents, joined by national nonprofit People For the American Way, filed suit today in federal court in Pittsburgh against county, state and federal officials. The action seeks to prevent Allegheny County from a last-minute shift to touchscreen machines and paper ballots for the May 16 primary election. The County’s decision, made only five weeks before the election, risks chaos on Election Day because of the lack of time to train election officials and educate voters about the change from lever machines which have been in use for 40 years.
“This rush to a new and flawed technology just weeks before the election threatens to sow chaos in the primary and compromise the fundamental rights of thousands of voters for years to come,” says Harry Litman, the former United States Attorney in Pittsburgh and an attorney for the plaintiffs. “It’s a bad deal for Allegheny County, and, we believe, a violation of federal law.”
“We need to stop and rethink this before we do irreversible damage,” Litman added.
The suit, Celeste Taylor v. Dan Onorato, (link to PDF of complaint) asks the court to prevent use of machines manufactured by Election Systems & Software until the County has spent the time necessary to identify voting systems that are secure; reliable; and accessible to voters with disabilities. The plaintiffs cite elections in Texas, Florida, California, Ohio, and North and South Carolina where ES&S machines failed on Election Day. A report by the Inspector General in Miami of a 2002 election found that the ES&S machines were not properly prepared; their results could not be audited; poll workers were unable to operate machines; and large number of voters simply gave up as a result.
The plaintiffs also include two Allegheny County residents who use wheelchairs and want to make sure the County purchases machines that are accessible to all individuals with disabilities. The defendants in the case are the Pennsylvania Secretary of State; Dan Onorato (Allegheny County Chief Executive); James Flynn (County Manager); and senior officials at the federal Department of Justice. The complaint alleges that DOJ has pressured Allegheny to buy the new machines by improperly threatening to take back about $12 million that has been given to Pennsylvania for improved voting systems.
The plaintiffs are asking for a preliminary injunction that would require the use of lever machines for the May 16 primary elections and the November general elections, and require Allegheny County to purchase machines that comply with federal law.