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Report Warns of Potential Voting Problems in 10 States

By Amy Goldstein
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Two weeks before the midterm elections, at least 10 states, including Maryland, remain ripe for voting problems, according to a study released yesterday by a nonpartisan clearinghouse that tracks electoral reforms across the United States.

The report by Electionline.org says those states, and possibly others, could encounter trouble on Election Day because they have a combustible mix of fledgling voting-machine technology, confusion over voting procedures or recent litigation over election rules -- and close races.

The report cautions that the Nov. 7 elections, which will determine which political party controls the House and Senate, promise "to bring more of what voters have come to expect since the 2000 elections -- a divided body politic, an election system in flux and the possibility -- if not certainty -- of problems at polls nationwide."

In a state-by-state canvass, the 75-page report singles out places, such as Indiana and Arizona, where courts have upheld stringent new laws requiring voters to show poll workers specific forms of identification. It cites states such as Ohio and Pennsylvania, which have switched to electronic voting machines whose accuracy has been challenged. And it points to states such as Colorado and Washington, which have departed from the tradition of polling sites in neighborhood precincts.

The report of the clearinghouse, sponsored by the Pew Charitable Trusts, is the latest of several warnings in recent weeks and months by organizations and scholars who say that electoral problems persist in spite of six years of efforts by the federal government and states to correct voting flaws. The flaws gripped the public's attention after the close 2000 presidential election, which led to recounts in Florida and the intervention of the Supreme Court.

The election shambles of 2000 prompted Congress to pass in 2002 legislation intended to help states make significant election changes, such as by replacing outdated voting equipment. Some of the changes, including making sure that databases of registered voters are accurate, were required to be in effect by this year.

Doug Chapin, director of Electionline.org, said "things are getting better over time." But he said many of the changes in recent years have led to new problems and disputes. For instance, the decisions by many states to convert to electronic voting machines have yielded new concerns about whether they are secure and accurate, about paper records as backup proof and -- this year -- about whether the electronic or paper record should be considered the official tally if a candidate demands a recount.

The report cites Maryland for what it calls a "dismal primary" in September that "included human and machine failures galore," in part because Montgomery County election officials forgot to distribute to polling places the access cards needed for its electronic machines to work. The study raises questions about whether Montgomery officials are prepared for the bigger crowds in the general election and whether large numbers of mistrustful voters will resort to absentee ballots.

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