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08.24 Acceptable Losses
Voting Systems Lawsuit Reaches U.S. Supreme Court
It's clear to me that without direct access to a physical ballot and meaningful transparency in the [voting] process, our elections have no integrity whatsoever," says plaintiff Lynn Landis.A little-noticed voting rights lawsuit has made its way to the U.S. Supreme Court (Docket No. 05-930). It constitutes the first legal challenge to the widespread use of nontransparent voting systems. Specifically, the lawsuit challenges the use of voting machines and absentee voting in elections for public office.
The lawsuit was originally filed by freelance journalist Lynn Landes in July of 2004 in Philadelphia federal court (U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania). The Third Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against Landes on November 2, 2005.
In her lawsuit Landes claims that, as a voter and a journalist, she has the right to direct access to a physical ballot and to observe the voting process unimpeded. Voting by machine or absentee, Landes claims, introduces obstacles and concealment to a process that must be accessible and transparent in a meaningful and effective manner.
Landes is representing herself in this action.
"I tried to get civil rights organizations interested in this case, but had no luck," said Landes in a prepared statement to the press. "Their disregard for this issue is incredible. It's clear to me that without direct access to a physical ballot and meaningful transparency in the process, our elections have no integrity whatsoever."
The defendants in the Landes lawsuit are Margaret Tartaglione, Chair of the City Commissioners of Philadelphia; Pedro A. Cortes, Secretary of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania; and Alberto Gonzales, Attorney General of the United States.
Attorneys for the defendants have successfully fought Landes, claiming that she did not prove an injury and therefore does not have standing. Landes counters that she has the right to challenge the constitutionality of acts of the legislative branch under federal statute and case law, most significantly under Marbury v. Madison, 5 U.S. 137 (1803).
It was only after the Civil War, as the elective franchise expanded to minorities and women, that three changes to state and federal election laws were adopted that eventually made the voting process a private and nontransparent enterprise.
Prior to the Civil War, voting was a public and transparent process. It was only after the war, as the elective franchise expanded to minorities and women, three changes to state and federal election laws were adopted that eventually made the voting process a private and nontransparent enterprise: absentee voting was allowed (1870's), the Australian secret ballot method was adopted (1880's), and voting machines were permitted by Congress (1899).
Today, 94.6% of all votes are processed by machines and approximately 30% of all voting is conducted early or by absentee.
The defendants' response is due at the Supreme Court no later than February 24, 2006.
The Landes lawsuit can be found here. (If a password is required to see the document, type in anything and you should get in anyway.)
The case docket no. can be viewed here.
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This story was published on February 6, 2006.