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'A Massive Experiment' In Voting

In California, Secretary of State Kevin Shelley (D) said the machines can be used only if voters are allowed to use paper ballots upon request, poll workers are properly trained and the machines are never connected to the Internet.

Maryland's paper trail proponents think Shelley's plan could work for the rest of the country, which is still awaiting guidelines from the federal Elections Assistance Commission. The commission was established by Congress to develop the guidelines after lawmakers approved $3.9 billion in funding to help states modernize their voting systems by 2006.

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'A Massive Experiment' in Voting
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_____Related Coverage_____
Problems Abound in Election System (The Washington Post, Sep 5, 2004)
Judge Rules in Favor Of Md. Vote Machines (The Washington Post, Sep 2, 2004)
Lost Votes in N.M. a Cautionary Tale (The Washington Post, Aug 22, 2004)
Maryland Activists Want E-Voting Receipts (washingtonpost.com, Jul 19, 2004)
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Maryland Del. Karen S. Montgomery (D-Montgomery) and other legislators have urged Ehrlich to hold a special session to pass legislation requiring a paper trail after the General Assembly failed to act on a similar bill before the end of the regular session. Montgomery said that the chance of a special session is unlikely considering the last one was held in 1992. Ehrlich spokesman Henry Fawell said the governor is satisfied with the fixes that the elections board made following the security reports, and is confident that the machines are ready for use in November.

The Maryland e-voting debate has coincided with Lamone's battle with the state's Republican-led elections board, which has been trying to remove the Democratic appointee from her post, only to have its arguments -- like those of the paper-trail advocates -- put off until after the November election.

"I am very sorry and disturbed that the Maryland exploration of the need for a voter-certified paper trail has been so distorted and so mixed up with, shall we say, personalities and politics, rather than dealing with the ... fact that it is not a secure system and is absolutely vulnerable to various distortions," said Montgomery, who like Lamone is a Democrat, but opposes the Diebold machines.

Lamone fiercely defends the new technology: "I can tell you that the voters overwhelmingly love the equipment. ... We are hearing from some folks who are buying into this paper-trail issue. They don't understand the procedures that we use to ensure that nothing can happen to the voting system." The procedures include software and hardware testing, double-sealing with special tape designed to show when tampering has occurred, and rereading of memory cards by counties the day after the election, Lamone said.

Dual Systems, Local Choices

The District of Columbia and Virginia have taken different approaches to electronic voting. D.C. voting officials mandated that every precinct have one Sequoia Systems AVC Edge machine alongside an optical-scan system that requires voters to mark their choices on paper by filling in an oval with a pen, then running the card through a scanning machine. The touch-screen machines were brought in to settle a lawsuit charging that the optical-scan systems were not accessible to disabled voters, according to officials, but anyone can use them.

In an election Sept. 14, the dual system led to a three-hour delay in releasing final results when the last data cartridges from the touch-screen machines arrived at the elections board well after the paper-ballot totals. D.C. elections board Chairman Wilma A. Lewis told The Washington Post that the board would use the time leading up to the Nov. 2 election to find ways to improve the reporting of results.

Virginia's elections board leaves the decision in the hands of local officials. Some Northern Virginia communities, including Manassas, Manassas Park and Prince William County, will use electronic voting technology for the first time this year. Others, such as Alexandria, Arlington County, Fairfax City and Fairfax County have used it in several elections.

Falls Church and Fredericksburg did not upgrade their systems in time for the November election, which means that next year's elections for governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general and House of Delegates would be the earliest time that residents of those cities might use electronic voting machines. The same is true for Fauquier, Spotsylvania and Stafford counties, but not because they are worried about paper records.

"Do I want to see a receipt given to each person? No I don't," said Betsy Mayr, deputy registrar for Fauquier County. "On a touch-screen they have ample opportunity to see that they have voted everything that they want to vote on that ballot."

Stafford County Registrar Ray Davis said the controversy has been generated by "the pseudo-experts that they think they... can program the [touch-screen] equipment." Davis said that the county will buy a computerized system once the Elections Assistance Commission develops guidelines.

"We trust them," said T.Q. Hutchinson, voting secretary for Fairfax City.


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