Ehrlich Wants Paper Ballots For Nov. Vote

By Christian Davenport and Ann E. Marimow
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, September 21, 2006

A week after the primary election was plagued by human error and technical glitches, Maryland Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R) called yesterday for the state to scrap its $106 million electronic voting apparatus and revert to a paper ballot system for the November election.

"When in doubt, go paper, go low-tech," he said.

Linda H. Lamone, the administrator of the Maryland State Board of Elections, quickly denounced the plan to swap voting systems just seven weeks before the general election as "crazy." And Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert) said it "cannot happen. It will not happen."

Ehrlich said that, if necessary, he would call a special session of the Maryland General Assembly to change the law to allow paper ballots. But Miller and House Speaker Michael E. Busch (D-Anne Arundel) dismissed the idea of a special session, saying elections officials should focus instead on fixing the current system.

"We paid millions. These are state-of-the-art machines," said Miller, who called Ehrlich's announcement a political ploy to energize his Republican supporters.

In Montgomery and Prince George's counties yesterday, election officials continued to count the thousands of paper provisional ballots that could determine the outcome of the 4th Congressional District Democratic primary race between incumbent U.S. Rep. Albert R. Wynn and challenger Donna Edwards. Prince George's officials cracked opened 26 machines yesterday and retrieved votes that had not been counted.

The problems playing out in Maryland have created unease elsewhere in the nation, where more than 80 percent of voters will use electronic voting machines in the Nov. 7 election and a third of all precincts are using them for the first time.

Ehrlich's statement came after a State Board of Public Works hearing at which Lamone said her staff would "work around the clock" to correct the problems that plagued the primary. She vowed that her office would help local election boards retrain judges, recruit new ones and force Diebold Election Systems to fix the problems that caused some of its machines to malfunction.

The idea of switching systems now worried local election officials who said testing new equipment and educating election judges and voters about a new system would be a daunting -- if not impossible -- task.

"There isn't a lot of time," said Marjorie Roher, a spokeswoman for the Montgomery Board of Elections.

Henry Fawell, a spokesman for Ehrlich, said the governor's top priority is to replace the electronic poll books, used to check in voters. But he said Ehrlich "is also interested in moving voters to a paper ballot for this year's general election."

"He realizes it's a tall order," Fawell said. But moving to paper ballots would "eliminate the chronic problems that electronic voting machines demonstrated [Sept. 12] with respect to crashing and susceptibility to tampering."

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