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Counties Make Case for E-Vote

Times Staff Writer

A federal judge on Friday appeared ready to uphold California Secretary of State Kevin Shelley’s temporary ban on electronic voting, a move that could lead four counties to begin searching for alternative voting systems or to take the case to a federal appeals court.

A lawyer for Kern, Plumas, Riverside and San Bernardino counties urged U.S. District Judge Florence-Marie Cooper at a hearing in Los Angeles to reconsider an earlier tentative ruling to uphold Shelley’s ban.

The attorney, John McDermott, said electronic voting machines are reliable and that a temporary switch to paper-based voting could throw the November election into disarray.

Cooper gave no indication that she intends to deviate from her tentative ruling, which concluded that Shelley’s ban did not violate the Americans With Disabilities Act and appeared to be in the voters’ best interests.

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In April, Shelley banned four counties -- Kern, San Diego, San Joaquin and Solano -- from using touch-screen voting machines Nov. 2 and said 10 other counties were banned until they met requirements to prevent mistakes and tampering.

The four counties, as well as 16 disabled voters and three groups representing disabled people, have asked Cooper to issue a temporary order reversing Shelley’s decision. Advocates for the physically and visually impaired say electronic machines are important because they allow disabled people to vote without assistance.

McDermott said Shelley’s ruling was unfair because it affects counties that have not reported trouble with their machines. Riverside County officials say they have run 29 elections with touch-screen machines without any glitches.

Shelley took action after problems with the machines surfaced during the March primary. A battery problem caused machine glitches in Alameda and San Diego counties. Some voters cast paper ballots in those counties; others were turned away from the polls. San Diego County officials plan to use paper ballots in November.

Still, McDermott said, it’s unfair for the secretary of state to impose new restrictions on Riverside County. “There’s no evidence that Riverside County’s system is defective and unreliable,” he said.

An attorney for Shelley applauded the judge’s temporary ruling and noted that the secretary of state’s reaction to the March election was a sign of “responsive government.”

“It is in the public interest ... to not permit voting to occur unless the machines are suitably reliable,” said Deputy Atty. Gen. Douglas J. Marshall.

Cooper is expected to issue a ruling next week.

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