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Tuesday, November 6, 2012

UPDATE: Code Blue! Emergency absentee ballot applications causing legal turmoil (UPDATE)

Posted By on Tue, Nov 6, 2012 at 6:53 PM

(SCROLL TO THE BOTTOM FOR UPDATES)

Over at Elections Court, our AmyJo Brown is following what is the biggest local Election Day battle thus far — a dispute about allowing people in hospitals to vote.

This afternoon, county officials began receiving applications for emergency ballots from a number of area hospitals. 56 such applications have come from patients at UPMC-Shadyside, for example, with scores of others from UPMC facilities including Mercy, Montefiore, and Western Psych. Democrats say as many as 300 patients may seek the right to vote.

Although absentee ballots usually are required well in advance of election day, applications for emergency absentee ballots can be made right up until the polls close. A voter who faces a sudden medical emergency, or is called out of town at the last minute, can file an application for the absentee ballot with Common Pleas Court. If the court approves the application, a ballot is issued to the voter. In circumstances like these, where a voter is hospitalized or incapacitated, a representative can be authorized to bring the ballot to the voter, and return it to the county.

It's not unprecedented for such requests to come from local hospitals: A dozen women in labor at local hospitals sought such ballots back in 2008. But Republican attorneys are raising objections to the process, telling judge Terrence O'Brien that they wanted testimony from the volunteers who were bringing in the applications, so they could understand the organizing effort. Democrats objected that Republicans should have to come up with a fee that is required for such challenges: $10 per application being challenged. O'Brien agreed; as of this writing, Republicans are pondering how many applications to challenge.

But partisan passions are already on display. During arguments, Republican attorney Katie Goldman repeatedly referred to Democrats as the "Democrat Party"; dropping the "ic" from "Democratic" is a common Republican snub. O'Brien objected: "The what party?" he asked? Goldman used "Democrat Party" again, which prompted O'Brien to interrupt her.

"I just want to make sure we're talking about the right party," he said, "I believe it is called the Democratic Party."

UPDATE (3:13 p.m.): AmyJo Brown reports that a temporary truce is in effect. O'Brien is approving the applications, allowing ballots to be issued to the hospitalized voters. Republicans are reserving the right to challenge those ballots once they come in; Democrats have agreed to separate these ballots from other emergency absentee ballots. (Ballots from Western Psych will be in a separate category of their own, since absentee voting by people seeking treatment for mental issues can present different legal questions.)

UPDATE: (6:49 p.m.): Paul O'Hanlon of the Disability Rights Network asked the court for a two-hour extension — until 10 p.m. — to get the hospital ballots returned given the delays this afternoon in getting the applications signed. Judge Kim Clark approved the request, with no opposition from the GOP's attorneys.

The Republicans only request was for a similar extension to review the applications. Democratic Party Lawyers agreed and the GOP will have until 4:30 p.m. Thursday to challenge these ballots.

Representatives from local Veterans' hospitals also dropped off applications today and O'Hanlon estimates about 300 applications for emergency absentee ballots have been submitted.

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