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Experts predict ruling to spur more lawsuits


© St. Petersburg Times, published December 14, 2000

The U.S. Supreme Court's 5-4 ruling that ended Vice President Al Gore's bid for the presidency also created a new standard for voting laws and procedures that is likely to lead to further suits over elections, according to legal scholars and elections experts Wednesday.

"They've created an imperfect opinion that will create more litigation," predicted Yale University's Jack Balkin, Knight professor of constitutional law and the First Amendment.

By indicating that the Constitution's equal protection clause requires uniformity in voting systems, the high court opened the door to claims that there is a constitutional right to uniform voting systems, experts said.

"It can be read that everyone's rights require that they should be assured of equal access to good voting equipment," said Rob Richie of the non-partisan Center for Voting and Democracy.

States and counties nationwide use different systems for counting votes, employing everything from old-fashioned paper ballots to high-tech electronic scanners. Could all states now be charged with violating the Constitution?

"This principle could apply nationwide to any election," Balkin said.

For instance, minority voters in a poor area could argue that the punch-card systems they were forced to use for balloting are unconstitutional, because those systems are less reliable and reject more ballots than do optical scanners. A ruling in such a case could mean that the opinion that handed Texas Gov. George W. Bush the presidency may, in the long term, wind up benefiting Democrats in other elections.

"The implications are that you cannot have different standards within a state that undermines these principles," said Curtis Gans, director of the non-partisan Committee for the Study of the American Electorate.

Robert C. Post, a constitutional law professor at the University of California, Berkeley, told the Wall Street Journal the court also made a lot of work for state Legislatures when it threw out Florida's state standard of evaluating ballots by the intent of the voter.

Since "that's the standard in many states, it means that the laws in many states are going to have to be re-examined in light of the objectivity of their standards for reading votes," he said. "It's pretty remarkable stuff."

-- Staff researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this story.

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