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Maryland Activists Want E-Voting Receipts


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_____Related Coverage_____
Groups Rally for Voting Receipts (The Washington Post, Jul 14, 2004)
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Electronic Voting Still In Infancy, Critics Say (The Washington Post, May 5, 2004)
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By Robert MacMillan Staff Writer
Monday, July 19, 2004; 12:50 PM

Melanie Vaughan-West arrived at the Maryland State House in Annapolis last Tuesday to demand something she never had before -- a receipt for her vote.

The pastor of the nearby Broadneck Baptist Church gathered with approximately 100 other people in front of the state capitol to add her voice to the small-but-growing chorus of complaints that electronic touch-screen voting machines are more susceptible to fraud and manipulation than their paper-based predecessors.

"They're not dependable," she said. "There are so many things that can go wrong."

A piece of paper taped to Vaughan-West's back read, "Will your vote count?" Others carried picket signs and wore pins saying, "Make sure your vote counts -- demand a paper ballot," and "Don't let the computer eat your vote."

One man wore a black box, with his head and feet sticking out at either end, designed to look like a computer screen with a gaping maw, fangs and malevolent eyes, ready to swallow votes on Election Day.

They sweated through a dank, cloudy July afternoon on the little square at Lawyer's Mall as activists predicted that e-voting machines could result in lost votes and a compromised election this November.

The event, organized by the Maryland-based Campaign for Verifiable Voting, was part of the "Computer Ate My Vote" day, which saw activists gather in 19 states to call on their governors and state election boards to require that touchscreen electronic voting machines produce a paper record of each vote cast.

Supporters of the machines tout them as the most secure method of voting ever created, far more reliable than the punch-card machines that contributed to the 2000 election debacle in Florida. Congress felt the same way, and handed out $3.9 billion to the states to bring their voting technology into the electronic age by 2006. Some states, including Maryland, acted swiftly to update their systems. Many other states are making the change more slowly, moving county by county or even precinct by precinct.

Some of that hesitancy stems from the fact that federal officials have not yet developed uniform methods for how the machines would handle recounts and other routine election hiccups, and they are unlikely to come before November. That, opponents say, could sow chaos and confusion in the voting process if a candidate demanded a recount.

"We know that voting with a paperless black-box machine is like buying a pig in a poke," said Ben Cohen, co-founder of the Ben & Jerry's ice cream empire and president of, a group opposed to paperless voting. Electronic voting, he said, is a gamble "with the very future of democracy."

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