Melanie Vaughan-West arrived at the Maryland State House in Annapolis last month to demand something she never had before -- a receipt for her vote.
The pastor of nearby Broadneck Baptist Church gathered with about 100 others 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 with messages: "Make sure your vote counts -- demand a paper ballot" or "Don't let the computer eat your vote."
One man wore a black box -- 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.
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 touch-screen electronic voting machines produce a paper record of each vote cast.
Supporters of the machines promote them as the most secure method of voting ever created, far more reliable than the punch-card machines that contributed to the 2000 presidential 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 developed uniform methods for how the machines would handle recounts and other routine election hiccups, and they are unlikely to do so before November. That, opponents say, could allow chaos and confusion in the voting process if a candidate demands a recount.
"We know that voting with a paperless black-box machine is like buying a pig in a poke," said Ben Cohen, a co-founder of the Ben & Jerry's ice cream empire and president of TrueMajority.org, a group opposed to paperless voting and an organizer of the rallies. Electronic voting, he said, is a gamble "with the very future of democracy."
Cohen moved from the rally to a news conference call conducted with MoveOn.org, another lead organizer, former Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean and other supporters of e-voting receipts.
Dean said the supporters, including Common Cause, the Electronic Frontier Foundation and Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility, had collected 350,000 signatures of Americans who are asking their state election boards to sign petitions promising to make alternate voting methods available this November.
"It's very encouraging to see how many Americans really believe that their votes are sacred," said Rep. Rush Holt (D-N.J.), another participant in the conference call. Holt is sponsoring legislation in the House to require that e-voting machines produce a paper receipt. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) and John Ensign (R-Nev.) are sponsoring similar legislation in the Senate.
Other states where demonstrators turned out included Texas, North Carolina, New York, Ohio, Utah and Wisconsin. There also was a rally in California, where Secretary of State Kevin Shelley has led a high-profile effort to enforce tough standards on e-voting machines. Shelley also banned the use of one type of machine manufactured by Diebold Election Systems because he said it uses uncertified software.
In Annapolis, Linda Schade, a co-founder of the Maryland-based Campaign for Verifiable Voting, said her group and several others had collected 13,000 signatures of Maryland citizens who want Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R) to require election officials to offer alternatives to touch-screen voting. She said the group also is calling on State Board of Elections Administrator Linda Lamone to resign because of her refusal to offer a paper ballot alternative.
Lamone, who has said in previous interviews that the state's Diebold machines are protected by multiple layers of security, did not return several telephone calls seeking comment on the Annapolis rally.
Retrofitting Maryland's voting machines to make them capable of printing receipts would be feasible, said David Bear, spokesman for Diebold Election Systems. But he said the company, which has sold more than 16,000 touch-screen machines to Maryland, would not change the machines unless Maryland officials request it. Bear declined to say how much it would cost to add printers, saying that it would depend on a variety of factors.
State Dels. Karen S. Montgomery (D-Montgomery) and Elizabeth Bobo (D-Howard), who attended the rally, said they will ask Ehrlich to convene a special legislative session to consider requiring paper voting receipts. The General Assembly failed this year to pass a measure requiring a ballot paper trail.
Ehrlich is seeking a special session to address medical malpractice lawsuits and in-state slot machines, but spokesman Henry Fawell said he has "not heard any discussion" about whether such a session would also consider electronic voting reform. The assembly has not held a special session since 1992.
Fawell said that the "security and integrity of the machines and the voting environment" are Ehrlich's primary concerns, but that a report commissioned by the state and released in January concluded that the machines are reliable. That study, produced for the state by San Diego-based Science Applications International Corp., contrasts with a report issued by Johns Hopkins University professor Avi Rubin, who concluded that the code in the machines could be hijacked by someone seeking to change the election outcome.
The Campaign for Verifiable Voting is still contemplating its next move, Schade said. It has begun approaching civic associations, political clubs, houses of worship and other local groups to spread the message and is considering suing to force printers to be attached to the machines.
Schade and several others, including state Sen. Andrew P. Harris (R-Baltimore County) and Baltimore City Councilman Kwame Abayomi (D), sued the elections board in April in an attempt to have the machines decertified following reports of voting glitches in the March 2 primary election. Several voters who demanded paper ballots received them, but they later learned from the elections board that their votes had been invalidated.
At the Annapolis rally, after the speeches and the applause, the crowd moved toward the State House steps. The plan was to march up the stairs to the governor's office, where they would hand-deliver their 13,000-signature petition.
In the end, people stayed outside and chanted ad hoc slogans while Bobo and Montgomery were granted a brief audience with Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele (R). As it turned out, the governor's office would not accept the petitions -- for security reasons.
And Melanie Vaughan-West said she is considering what might be the only legal way to vote on paper this November: absentee ballot.
Robert MacMillan is a staff writer for washingtonpost.com.