Naacp Ballot Suit Tossed

Posted: June 18, 1998

U.S. District Judge Norma L. Shapiro yesterday ruled that the city can continue to provide so-called ``alternative ballots'' to many voters who are over 65 or disabled for use in upcoming local elections.

The judge rejected legal challenges filed last year by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and three individuals.

The NAACP contends that use of alternative ballots in local elections created opportunities for vote fraud.

Since 1984, when Congress passed the Voting Accessibility of the Elderly and Handicapped Act, alternative ballots have been available for use in federal elections.

In 1990, Congress enacted the Americans with Disabilities Act to eliminate discrimination against the disabled by any public entity.

This prompted Commonwealth Secretary Brenda Mitchell, in 1992, to direct all county election boards to accept alternative ballots in local elections, too.

Such ballots are provided at request to any voter who is handicapped or over 65 and assigned to a polling place that is inaccessible to the disabled, as most city polling places are.

In one court filing, Chief Deputy City Solicitor Michael F. Eichert reported that only 43 of nearly 1,700 polling places were accessible to the handicapped.

The alternative ballots may be returned by mail or in person.

Unlike their cousin absentee ballots, which must be cast by the Friday before an election, alternative ballots may be cast up to election day, as long as they are received at the central election office before the polls close.

In her 12-page memorandum and order, Shapiro said the NAACP had provided ``no basis for finding'' a violation of federal law.''

``The possibility of fraud does not make the procedures violative of federal law . . . ,'' she added.

A similar suit was thrown out last year by a state judge. NAACP attorney Robert T. Vance couldn't be reached for comment.

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