U.S. Supreme Court Advances one Election Law Case that has Long been Stalled

On May 11, the U.S. Supreme Court revealed that it has placed Dallas County v Texas Democratic Party, 10-755, on its May 26 conference. The conference will probably decide whether to hear the case. The case had also been on the March 18 conference, but the Court had not then decided whether to hear the case, nor had it rescheduled it immediately for another conference, as is customary.

The issue is whether Dallas County’s new rules concerning its vote-counting machines should have been submitted to the Voting Rights Section of the Justice Department. The Texas Democratic Party doesn’t like the Dallas County vote-counting machines, because the machines have a tendency to trick some voters into voting just for a single candidate, even though the voter believes he or she has activated the straight-ticket device and has voted for all partisan office.

There are other U.S. Supreme Court election law cases that have already been through at least one conference, and for which no decision has been made by the Court on whether to hear that case. The case involving the U.S. Senate election in Illinois in 2010 is one such case (10-367 and 10-821); another is the Green Party of Connecticut case concerning discriminatory public funding (10-795).

The U.S. Supreme Court has set a May 12 conference date in Nader v Bennett, 10-1186. This is not an election law case. It concerns Ralph Nader’s ballot access case from 2004 against Arizona, but at this point the only outstanding issue is whether the lower courts in Arizona gave the proper amount of attorneys fees to Nader’s attorneys, the Bernhoft law firm of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The firm argues that the standards for calculating attorneys’ fees, in civil rights cases when the state loses, have been applied arbitrarily and that the firm is entitled to more fees than it received. Here is the cert petition.


U.S. Supreme Court Advances one Election Law Case that has Long been Stalled — 4 Comments

  1. It is erroneous to characterize the voting machines used by Dallas County as a “vote-counting machine”. Your characterization makes it sound like a stand-alone device that scans paper ballots.

    The issue is how a voter interacts with an electronic voting machine and whether the results were equivalent to the baseline procedure where a voter would shred holes in a card fashioned from dead trees.

    In particular, the voting machines provide a way by which a voter could correct a mistake and deliberately not vote for someone (which they have a constitutional right to do). The replaced punch card system required a voter to get a new punch card if they made a mistake, had horrible visual feedback, did not let a voter deliberately not vote for someone, and was prone to physical failure (eg hanging chads).

    It is quite likely that voters made many more mistakes using the punch-card system ($billions have been spent replacing them).

    Dallas County had their voting machines pre-cleared twice by the USDOJ, once when they started using them or early voting, and again when they deployed them for precinct voting. In their filing, they explained the procedure for un-voting for a previously voted candidate (the equivalent of using an eraser).

    Federal courts had already approved a similar interface used in Travis County (different voting machine, different vendor, buttons and scroll wheel vs. touch screen), and in the Dallas County case the district court made the same finding with regard to equal protection claims. And after the original district court ruling in Dallas County, Dallas County did file how their system worked with regard to straight-ticket voting with the USDOJ, and it is was approved.

    If the Dallas County voting machines do have “a tendency to trick some voters”, then this trickery has been approved by two different federal district courts and the US Department of Justice. I assume that the Democratic Party filed their complaints with the USDOJ as well.

    The issue in the Dallas County case is solely whether Dallas County should have explicitly filed with the USDOJ how their voting machine interface worked when certain combinations of interactions were made, or whether they were covered by the previous filings which certainly included the straight ticket voting worked in a broad sense (it is misleading to characterize these as “new rules”).

    A side issue is whether the Elections Administrator in Dallas County was forced out because he filed the appeal to the US Supreme Court. The County Judge (head of the commissioners court) in Dallas County was elected in 2010. Prior to that he had been a lawyer for the Democrats in the voting-machine case, and has been awarded attorney fees even though the voting-machines have been found to be lawful by federal district court.

    In many Texas counties, the County Clerk conducts elections, and the Tax Assessor-Collector handles voter registration (this is a residual role from when there was a poll tax).

    But in other counties, including Dallas County, there is an Election Administrator who is appointed by an Elections Commission consisting of the County Judge, County Clerk, the Tax Assessor-Collector, and the county chairs of the two largest parties.

    Though it is called a county elections commission, its only function is to hire and fire the election administrator. It doesn’t have any direct election oversight role. In Dallas County it not met in the two decades since the election administrator had been hired.

    Coincidentally with the filing of the appeal to the Supreme Court, the county judge (and former Democrat lawyer in the case) called a meeting of the elections commission to ostensibly review the performance of the elections administrator. The elections administrator found out about this “review” when the Republican party county chair (one of the 5 members of the commission) called him and asked him what it was about.

    The elections administrator then had a meeting with black county commissioner John Wiley Price who had been pushing to remove the elections administrator. The elections administrator then offered to resign after the May 2011 election. Price met with the county judge, and then told the administrator that the judge thought he should resign immediately.

    The elections commission then met, and instead of reviewing the job performance of the previous administrator, immediately hired the former deputy administrator, who presumably is thought to be more malleable.

    Incidentally (or perhaps not), the County Judge misspelled the election administrators name in the same manner that the Democratic Party did in their court filings.

  2. How many precincts on Mother Earth are using the dubious voting machines involved ???

    Why is it SOOOOOO HARD to vote in these New Age times ???

    – i.e. having lots of high tech MORONS making MORON voting machines ???

    — i.e. what is the INSANE mania for *instant* results ???

    What do the voting machines do between elections ???

    Talk to Star Trek folks in another universe ???

  3. NYS constitution enforcement redistrictin case Loeber (Strunk et al) v Spargo is also scheduled for SCOTUS cert conf May 26th

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