Recall decision is a voter rights victory

Following the 2000 presidential elections, many Americans had to revisit ninth-grade textbooks to remember the role of the Electoral College. We also learned some obscure voting jargon, which included “hanging chad” as well as “pregnant chad” and “dimpled chad.” California voters experienced “hanging chad” deja vu this week when the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit rightfully postponed California’s recall election until March 2.

The Court of Appeals decision is an important reaffirmation of voter rights and should not be viewed as an attempt to cancel the recall election altogether. The ruling is consistent with a previous decision in California that said the use of “defective” punch cards should be phased out in time for the state’s March 2 presidential primaries. The recall delay allows time to install new voting systems in at least six counties, which represent 44 percent of the electorate.

In its decision, the appellate court estimates 40,000 people would not have their votes counted under the current system. The punch-card voting system is arcane technology, reminiscent of the pre-electronic computers now housed mostly in museums. Wherever it is used, voters have a higher percentage of uncounted votes. Unlike other technology, voters using punch cards are unable to examine the ballots to see if they made mistakes.

In a society as technologically advanced as ours, continuing to use archaic punch cards could be viewed as almost humorous. The Court of Appeals noted, “It is perhaps ironic that the sitting governor could now well cast a vote on his own recall that would not be tallied.” As the court realized, use of the outmoded technology has a tremendous impact on fundamental democratic principles, as the Bush v. Gore debacle reiterated.

Problems in the voting system conflict with the equal protection clause of the 1973 Voting Rights Act which provides “the opportunity for equal participation by all voters in the election.”

If punch cards had been used for the recall race, Californians could forever have been debating the legitimacy of the elected governor.

All states need to consider the speed with which old voting technologies are being replaced, if at all. Delays due to slow bureaucracies should not be tolerated if technology use is not meeting the demands of democracy. Punch cards and legitimate democratic process cannot coexist. If Bush v. Gore did not drive this message home, perhaps the California recall election will.