The 9th Circuit Court
of Appeals ruled on Monday that the California recount election could not
go forward as planned because six counties still use the punch-card balloting
system, now considered outdated by millions of people in the United States.
The ruling followed a hearing before a U.S. District Court a week ago in
which the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) sought to postpone the vote
but had its request denied. Lawyers for the civil rights group argued that
a UC Berkeley study had showed that as many as 40,000 poor and minority voters
could have their ballots excluded if punch-card ballots were used. The three
judge panel agreed, even though this same voting system was used only last
year to reelect Governor Gray Davis without any objection by the ACLU.
The 9th Circuit, the federal court most frequently overturned by the U.S.
Supreme Court, concluded that "In sum, in assessing the public interest,
the balance falls heavily in favor of postponing the election for a few months,"
citing the Supreme Court's Bush v. Gore decision as an example of
potential voter disenfranchisement should the punch-card ballots be used.
The same sort of ballots were at the center of the presidential election
controversy in Florida three years ago which resulted in a delay by more
than a month of the final decision concerning the election's outcome.
Proponents of the October recall election have vowed to take their case to
the Supreme Court as soon as possible, and the leading Republican gubernatorial
candidate, Arnold Schwarzenegger, released a statement calling upon the California
Secretary of State to " immediately appeal this decision on behalf of the
citizens who exercised their Constitutional right to recall Governor Gray
Davis and who expect an election on October 7."
The second most popular Republican candidate, state Senator Tom McClintock,
did not seem overly concerned after hearing about the ruling, saying that
"This is the most overturned court in the U.S., I'm confident this will be
overturned in a matter of days if not a matter of hours."
While it remains to be seen if the Senator's prediction will prove to be
correct, the ruling of the notoriously liberal, activist 9th Court of Appeals
leads me, your humble editorialist, to ask a couple of pertinent questions.
Does the court consider both poor and minority voters to be less intelligent
than either wealthy or white voters? Based upon the argument advanced by
the ACLU, which the federal court justices unanimously agreed with, that
some 40,000 of them would likely be disenfranchised simply by using punch-card
ballots, it stands to reason that they believe such a premise to be true.
If that is not the case, why were only poor and minority voters mentioned
in the first place? Certainly people of many races (whites included) and
economic classes (middle and upper included) live in the counties that still
use punch-card ballots.
Secondly, if the court does indeed feel that a statewide election should
not be held which incorporates the use of punch-card type ballots, would
it also agree that far more important nationwide elections should not be
undertaken for the same reason? After all, many states in the U.S. still
use virtually identical punch-card systems for voting. If poor and minority
voters aren't capable of properly manipulating these types of ballots, how
can we possibly allow the next presidential election to take place until
every state makes sure these ballots have been replaced with more user-friendly
It is my opinion that, since the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals has made it
clear that it considers the use of punch-card ballots to be a likely cause
of poor and minority voter disenfranchisement, no election should take place
in this country until all such voting systems have been replaced. Personally,
I don't buy the argument that poor people and minorities aren't as capable
as everyone else of casting a punch-card ballot correctly, but then I'm not
a federal court justice. If the ACLU and the 9th Court believe otherwise,
who am I to stand in the way of their quest to achieve voter "fairness?"
I am willing to support their findings 100 percent, and, furthermore, insist
that the 2004 presidential election be delayed, if necessary, until every
state in the union eliminates every single punch-card ballot currently in
use. What's good for California is certainly good for the rest of the country,
and if it means that President Bush has to retain his office for a few extra
months or even years in order to insure that ALL THE VOTES ARE COUNTED, so
As the 9th Circuit Court so eloquently put it, "The choice between holding
a hurried, constitutionally infirm election and one held a short time later
that assures voters that the rudimentary requirements of equal treatment
and fundamental fairness are satisfied is clear." Absolutely, and the principles
of equal treatment and fairness apply not only to California voters, but
to every other American as well. That's why next year's presidential election,
and indeed, ALL elections in the United States need to be stopped until such
a time as this worrisome punch-card problem can be resolved.
Edward L. Daley is the owner of The Daley Times-Post.