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Machines Get an Initial Vote of Approval From League

By Rebecca Dana
Sunday, October 24, 2004; Page C04

For the members of the League of Women Voters who gathered Thursday for a test of Montgomery County's electronic voting machines, it was like watching someone defuse a bomb. All these cables and cords and touch screens and thingamajigs wired together into foldable, collapsible, portable instruments of democracy: Would they actually work?

They couldn't look. They couldn't look away.

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Instead, they feigned calm while Margaret A. Jurgensen, Montgomery's director of elections, double-checked the voting machines' totals against hand tallies after a small mock election. The women rocked back and forth in their chairs, chatted about the weather, wondered about the election and whispered.

"Oh, please, I hope they work."

"Let's pray this time goes better than that other time."

"Don't worry, Barbara. I really think it'll be fine."

And so it was.

By Thursday afternoon, all the assorted gadgets and gizmos that make up the county's 2,600 Diebold e-voting machines had been synced in the basement of the Board of Elections office. The machines -- rectangular touch screens operated by computer memory cards -- had all been tested. Retested. Re-retested.

Finally, they were ready to be unveiled.

Before Thursday's test, state and local election officials appeared confident in the much-maligned e-voting system. After the tests -- when all the tallies had checked out, when there were no human errors and no machine errors -- they were more than relieved.

Yes: They are tamper-proof. See: There's a paper trail. No: The modems aren't hooked up while people are voting, so there's no chance of anyone hacking into the system.

"So, did you have any other questions?" Jurgensen asked the dozen onlookers, including several from the League of Women Voters. Or did this demonstration take care of all their fears, the general anxiety that prompts people to call in with questions every day?

All cleared up? No worries?

"Let's hope," Jurgensen said.

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