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Worse to Come in Fall Elections, Officials Fear

Byrd sought to reassure voters that users of an AccuVote-TS will not be disenfranchised.

"Secure voting equipment, proper procedures and adequate testing assure an accurate voting process," he said.

State election officials have staunchly defended the machines, saying they are among the most secure in the country. In the 2004 election, the state had a 0.3 percent residual vote rate -- votes that don't count because of voter error or other problems -- which was among the best of 37 states in an academic survey.

Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R), who is up for reelection, has been an outspoken critic of the machines. He supported a bill this year that would have replaced the Diebold equipment with paper ballots and optical scanners. The bill passed the House unanimously but died in the Senate. Some legislators vow to press the issue again next year.

Joseph M. Getty, Ehrlich's policy director, said the Princeton study "reinforces that we're in very tenuous territory."

"The General Assembly's failure to act last session made it very difficult for something to be done in the seven weeks we have remaining" before the general election, Getty said.

A day after Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan (D) called for the dismissal of Margaret Jurgensen, the elections director, the members of the Montgomery County Board of Elections said they had confidence in her. The board also said yesterday that it has asked the Election Center, a nonprofit Texas organization of state election officials, to review its procedures.

During Tuesday's primaries, voting was delayed at nearly all of Montgomery's 238 precincts after elections officials forgot to distribute the plastic cards required to operate the voting machines.

There were also technical glitches, many associated with the electronic polling books that were used in the state for the first time. The books, which resemble laptop screens, are electronic versions of the voter rolls that election judges use to verify a person's voter registration.

The Diebold touch-screen books were bought in June and July and were delivered to counties in waves afterward. But some didn't arrive until the week before the primary, meaning some election judges had little time to become familiar with them, said Ross Goldstein, the deputy administrator for the Maryland State Board of Elections.

Avi Rubin, a Johns Hopkins computer scientist who served as an election judge in Baltimore County, said he wasn't trained to use the machines until Aug. 24. At the training session, he said, he got three minutes of hands-on experience with the book. "But that was a lot more than a lot of the other people who were [elderly] and were not comfortable with the technology," he said.

Rubin, who issued a report in 2003 that said the machines were vulnerable to manipulation, has called them "inherently insecure."

Linda H. Lamone, the administrator of the State Board of Elections, said this week that all election judges should receive refresher training before November.

Technology glitches frustrated voters in several areas Tuesday. When Bruce Hathaway tried to vote at Little Flower School in Bethesda, he figured he had plenty of time. So he began poring through voting literature after a poll worker inserted the voter access card to fire up the voting machine.

After two minutes, Hathaway, an editor at Smithsonian Magazine, realized the machine's screen had frozen. There was an ominous message: Go see an election judge. And then bad news from the judge -- the machine said Hathaway had already voted so he couldn't finish his balloting.

"I was disenfranchised," he said.

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