Pennsylvania voters who run into voting-machine problems next week will have easier access to paper ballots as an alternative, under a decision issued yesterday by a federal judge.
Harvey Bartle III, chief judge of the U. S. District Court for eastern Pennsylvania, ruled that if half of the voting machines break down in any voting division, election officials must offer voters the option of using paper ballots.
"Based on the record before us, we find that there is a real danger that a significant number of machines will malfunction throughout the Commonwealth," Bartle ruled, "and this occurrence is likely to cause unacceptably long lines on Nov. 4," due to the large voter turnout expected and the time it takes to repair machines.
"We sincerely hope this scenario will not occur, but we cannot allow our decision to be based on hope," Bartle ruled.
At the request of the state NAACP, the Election Reform Network and three individual voters, Bartle overturned a directive from the state's top election official, Secretary of the Commonwealth Pedro A. Cortes, that would have permitted the use of paper ballots only when all the voting machines broke down at a polling place.
The ruling followed an eight-hour hearing Tuesday.
A series of citizens from Philadelphia and Montgomery counties testified that they had waited two or three hours to vote in the April primary, after all the machines broke down at their polling places.
A voting-technology expert from Iowa, Dr. Douglas Jones, estimated that one out of every 10 or 12 machines was likely to have a problem on Election Day.
In the Philadelphia area, election officials usually put at least two voting machines into most polling locations, so if one breaks down, another is still operating.
If the margin between the presidential candidates is close, widespread use of paper ballots could delay resolution of the statewide race.
In Philadelphia, election officials usually don't begin counting paper ballots until the week after the election.
At a meeting yesterday morning, city election official Robert Lee said that in the past, most problems with Philadelphia machines could be resolved with a phone call to a mechanic.
The city commissioners were already planning to provide each of city's 1,681 polling place with at least 100 paper ballots.