Politics and the justice system often intersect and sometimes collide, but never more than on Election Day.

Yesterday, at Philadelphia's Election Court, the issue was a perennial: who may cast an emergency absentee ballot.

People who happened to be around for the judges' shift change - from a Democrat in the morning to a Republican in the afternoon - got a quick lesson in the difference between liberal interpretation and strict constructionism.

Pennsylvania law says people who have an emergency after 5 p.m. the Friday before an election may apply for an emergency absentee ballot.

There seemed to be little question that the law requires a notarized affidavit from a physician attesting that sudden illness or disability prevented the voter from going to the polls.

But nowhere does the application specify that it must be notarized. A line simply reads: "Sworn and subscribed before me this -- day of -- 20--."

"You have to be a lawyer or a notary to know that means it has to be notarized," said one lawyer sitting in City Hall's ornate Courtroom 676.

In the morning session, Common Pleas Court Judge Peter F. Rogers made it clear that he believed in erring on the side of letting people vote. As long as he could confirm that the voter had a valid registration, Rogers approved the request after a phone call or fax from the physician.

"I think it's the most important thing that people can do," he said of voting.

Rogers' successor, Common Pleas Court Judge Chris R. Wogan, had a more conservative approach, and lawyers for the Democratic City Committee and the Obama campaign, trying to preserve the morning's precedent, quickly squared off against lawyers for the Republican City Committee and the McCain campaign.

Wogan agreed that the application form was "misleading," but added: "The law is the law, and it says that somebody needs to notarize this. . . . I'm here till 10 o'clock if somebody wants to follow Pennsylvania law."

Contact staff writer Joseph A. Slobodzian at 215-854-2985 or jslobodzian@phillynews.com.