Yesterday, the Public Interest Law Center (PILCOP), the NAACP, Voter Action and others filed a lawsuit in Federal Court to make a basic demand in Pennsylvania for election day: If a division in the City or State has at least half of its machines out of order (for many divisions, that would realistically be one machine), then voters in that division must be allowed to vote on emergency paper ballots, so that they will not be disenfranchised.
This all is a very real concern. Last election, there were documented stories of broken machines and long lines leading to people giving up, and even campaign workers telling them to go home. And that was not a unique occurrence to the primary. In fact, after studying the failure rate of our voting machines, the plaintiffs come to a scary conclusion:
As Dr. Lopresti’s analysis confirms, assuming a conservative breakdown rate of 10%, there is an 18% probability that a precinct with two machines will be operating at 50% of its capacity by the end of Election Day. Assuming a 20% breakdown rate, there is a 32% probability that a precinct with two machines will be operating at 50% of its capacity by the end of Election Day.
When you combine that level of failure, along with the outpouring of turnout that we all know we will see, there is the potential for chaos on election day, and for a lot of people being disenfranchised. That is why the lawsuit is making the basic demand: paper ballots must be available if the machines fail.
One thing that is amusing in the lawsuit is that some of the evidence for why need an injunction against the city are the arrogant words of Fred Voight- the former head of the Committee for Seventy, who now works for the City Commissioners (our elected, patronage-heavy election board). Voight, in a video shown here, was asked about machine failures causing long lines, and gave us these charming words:
Are there lines? Of course there are. Tough. That’s the way it works." "People are always going to have to wait in line. I mean, get a life." When asked if an emergency paper ballot could be used in Philadelphia to alleviate long lines and overstressed polls, Voight stated: "Forget a long line. A long line is not justification for anything except waiting."
When I saw that this lawsuit was filed, the first thing I did was to do a ‘find’ and see if those words were going to be used against him. Lo and behold...
Look, this is a very basic request in any election. But in one such as this, where we know turnout will be sky high, this is a must, and is so basic. Print the paper ballots, and make sure that all Pennsylvanians have the right to vote. And in a sane world, the Philadelphia City Commissioners should simply volunteer to do this anyway. But, they haven't, and now we will see where this goes...