LOS ANGELES ? United States District Judge Stephen V. Wilson has granted plaintiffs' request for judgment in the Common Cause v. Jones suit, a ruling that will require California to get rid of its "hanging chad" voting machines by 2004. This is the first post-Bush v. Gore ruling to require that obsolete voting systems be retired in time for the 2004 election.
The ruling is a complete victory for the position taken by the ACLU, on behalf of the AFL-CIO, Common Cause, Southern Christian Leadership Conference, Southwest Voter Registration Education Project, and Chicano Federation of San Diego County. Those groups are represented by the law firms Munger, Tolles & Olson and Altshuler, Berzon, Nussbaum, Rubin & Demain, along with the ACLU Foundations of Southern California, Northern California, and San Diego.
quot;This landmark decision means that by 2004, 'hanging chad' machines will go the way of black-and-white TV's, 8-track tapes, and the Edsel," said ACLU staff attorney Dan Tokaji. "It does what the Secretary of State should have done years ago: Upgrade the infrastructure of our democracy, by providing a voting system fit for use in the 21st Century. Over 8.4 million California voters can go to the polls in 2004 with confidence that their votes will actually be counted."
"Tens of thousands of voters were disenfranchised in the November 2000 elections, including many people of color, casting a pall over the progress we have made in more than three decades of fighting for voting rights. This California judge's decision is an important first step to making sure that American citizens can have faith in our voting system again," said AFL-CIO President John Sweeney.
In April 2001, the ACLU brought suit to make Secretary of State Bill Jones decertify Votomatic-style punch card machines -- the same kind used in Florida's disastrous 2000 election. These outmoded machines have an error rate more than twice as high as any other system used in California, resulting in the disenfranchisement of thousands of California citizens. For example, Los Angeles County (which still uses a Votomatic punch-card system) had an error rate over four and one-half times that of neighboring Riverside County (which uses modern touch screen machines), in the November 2000 election. People of color are particularly hard hit by the technology gap in voting equipment.
The citizen groups in Common Cause v. Jones argued that it was necessary to retire outdated punch-card machines by 2004, in order to prevent a Florida-style election fiasco from happening here. Secretary of State Jones initially attempted to deny responsibility for fixing California's voting system but, on August 24, 2001, the federal court rejected Jones' attempt to wash his hands of responsibility.
On September 18, 2001, Jones finally conceded that Votomatic-style punch card machines are "obsolete." Nevertheless, Secretary Jones refused to require their replacement in time for the 2004 elections, despite the requests of the ACLU, Common Cause, and other citizen groups. On December 17, 2001, Jones set a replacement date of July 2005 ? over three and one-half years away.
The evidence developed in Common Cause v. Jones shows that the nine affected California counties can easily upgrade their systems in time for the 2004 presidential election. The case was set for trial to begin on February 19, 2002. Judge Wilson's most recent decision, however, means that no trial will be necessary because of the clear evidence that California can replace its "hanging chad" machines by 2004.
"Judge Wilson's decision fulfills the fundamental principle in our constitution that every citizen has the right not just to go the polls on election day, but to have his or her vote actually counted," said Brad Phillips of Munger, Tolles & Olson, one of plaintiffs' attorneys and California Common Cause Board Member. "Because of this decision, voting in California will move out of the dark ages before the 2004 Presidential election, and we will not have to fear the chaos and uncertainty that 'hanging' and 'dimpled' chads caused in Florida in 2000."
"Common Cause is very pleased by this ruling, which will put an end to gross disparities in California's voting system," said Jim Knox, Executive Director of California Common Cause. "In 2004, 'one-person, one-vote' will be more than just a slogan. It will be a reality."