Paper Trail Of Votes Is Unlikely To Pass

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By Ovetta Wiggins
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Maryland will not join the parade of states seeking to require that their electronic voting machines produce a paper record.

The measure, which would have cost upward of $20 million, appears to have fallen victim to an imminent budget crunch that could leave the state's coffers $1.3 billion short next year.

The bill was one of several pieces of legislation that came across lawmakers' desks this week aiming to alter the way elections are conducted, including one that would move up the state's presidential primary next year and another that would allow felons to vote after completing their sentences.

The Senate had scheduled a vote on the paper-trail bill for Monday but referred it to a committee for further consideration, a parliamentary move that usually means death for a bill in the final weeks of the legislature's 90-day session.

"It's very frustrating and disappointing," Sen. Edward J. Kasemeyer (D-Baltimore County), the bill's sponsor, said yesterday.

Voting rights groups, who have pushed hard for changes in the system amid concerns about the reliability and security of electronic voting, said the Senate committee had taken the teeth out of the bill by removing a provision that made paper the official ballot of record for an audit.

"It does not improve Maryland voting integrity. It goes the other way" Shazia Anwar, director of TrueVoteMD, said of the bill that came to the Senate floor.

Twenty-seven states require paper receipts. The Virginia General Assembly recently passed legislation to get rid of worn-out touch-screen machines and replace them with ones that produce paper receipts.

The Maryland House of Delegates approved a bill last week that would direct state election officials to have paper voting records available by 2010, the next gubernatorial election.

But because of the state's budget problems, no funding was tied to the bill. A provision said the paper-trail system would not go into effect if the state could not fund the program in the next fiscal year.

Maryland election officials have been cool to the idea of paper receipts, saying the state is still paying for the touch-screen machines. The state has spent $52 million for electronic voting machines since 2002 and expects to spend $115 million through fiscal 2009 for the machines, technical support, ballot printing and management. The machines cannot produce paper receipts, so new equipment would be needed to provide a paper trail.

In other action, the Senate gave preliminary approval to a bill that advocates moving toward a national popular vote and scrapping the electoral college.

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