State attorneys argue that it would be an impossible task for counties to arrange referendums and get voter approval of new federally required voting machines and still have time to buy the machines before the May 16 congressional primary.

The state Supreme Court scheduled oral arguments today in Pittsburgh in the dispute about the voting systems.

The state Constitution requires a referendum before a county can change its voting system, and Judge Dan Pellegrini of the Commonwealth Court had sided with a group of voters in ruling that Westmoreland County could not get around that requirement.

In their appeal, lawyers for the state maintain that the requirement is overridden by a federal law banning old-fashioned lever and punch-card systems from federal elections.

Pellegrini suggested using the old machines for state and local offices and paper ballots for the congressional primary. But Assistant U.S. Attorney General Wan J. Kim said paper ballots wouldn't comply with a requirement that polling places be accessible to the disabled.

York County officials are watching what happens in the Westmoreland County case.

The county planned to spend $3 million to $4 million for new voting machines prior to the May primary, but faces the same dilemma -- there's no time for a referendum between now and then, said John Scott, York County director of elections.

As a result, elections office has not yet formulated a plan for how to run the primary.

"I don't know what we'll do," Scott said. "We hope the (Supreme) Court gives us some guidance."