In an emergency ruling Sunday, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals struck down a lower court order banning a 10-minute time limit in California voting booths Tuesday.
The order relieved some official fears that huge lines of frustrated voters would develop and that many people would stay away from the polls.The appellate court decision came after an unusual hearing conducted in a telephone conference call with judges in Los Angeles, Phoenix and Seattle.
Because of the record length of the ballot with 29 statewide propositions, several counties had announced that for the first time, they would enforce a 1919 law limiting voters' time.
But last Friday U.S. District Judge Robert Aguilar issued a temporary restraining order directing all of California's counties to ignore the time limit. He ruled the time limit violated the federal Voting Rights Act.
The three 9th circuit judges informed attorneys by phone that Aguilar's order was reversed for lack of evidence that the state or any county would enforce the time limit "rigidly or strictly."
One of the judges, Stephen Reinhart of Los Angeles, concurred with the other two, William C. Canby Jr. and Jerome Farris, but added an important comment. He said if any county enforced the time limit rigidly or strictly it would be in violation of federal law.
While allowing California counties to proceed on Election Day with the time restriction, the 9th circuit sent the case back to the lower court for a full hearing on the validity of the California time limit law. The law was adopted in 1919 but never was enforced.
The time limit was challenged by the Mexican American Legal Defense Education Fund, the American Civil Liberties Union and two individuals, Filemon Alcarez and Chun-Siang Niu, both of Santa Clara County.
Manuel Romero, an attorney for the Mexican-American group, argued the time limit amounted to a literacy test, violating the federal Voting Rights Act.
State Deputy Attorney General Robert Murphy denied the limit acts as a literacy test and said it has no adverse effect special to language minorities.
Voters with language problems, Murphy said, can easily meet the time limit by taking pre-marked sample ballots with them into the booths. They also had the option of sending absentee ballots, he said.
Romero said banning the time limit need not unduly delay the precinct voting process.