Open Up SMECO Voting

I am asking the Southern Maryland Electric Cooperative's board of directors to open the voting to all co-op members by the election next summer.

On Sept. 1, the board of directors election attracted 1,357 out of 130,000 eligible votes. As the only challenger for any of the five seats open for election, I lost to the St. Mary's incumbent. He received 799 votes, considerably less than 1 percent of the 130,000 possible votes.

According to the co-op by-laws, the board of directors alone, not the SMECO management, decides how the voting will be held. For many years now, the only possible way to vote has been to attend the annual meeting. There are many interested members who simply cannot make it to the meeting to vote.

My mother, Miriam Thompson, is one. She is 93 and unable to travel. She is a charter member of SMECO, getting electricity to her new house in the late 1930s. She used to attend the annual meeting and expressed that desire this year, only to be told it was not possible.

She and many others who could not attend were denied their rightful vote.

In 2003 at the annual meeting, the co-op members passed an amendment to the bylaws allowing the board to change the method of voting, to include the possibility of mail-in voting. For some reason, the board chose to continue restricting the vote to the 1,300 to 1,800 members who attend. The traffic and parking at the annual meeting are already congested when 1 percent of the voters attend. What would happen if 2 percent or 3 percent showed?

In the last three elections I have been the only opposition. The last time an incumbent lost was in 1996. Not including the few open seats, that results in 40 straight wins for the sitting board members.

It is no wonder there has been only one challenger the last three elections. As it stands, the challenger must run in all four county jurisdictions, a process that alone heavily favors the incumbent. With the voting restricted to those attending the meeting, every voter can be personally approached as they go in to vote. With the majority of the 15 board members encouraging their supporters to show up and working the crowd to encourage votes for fellow board members, a challenger, especially a single challenger, does not stand much of a chance.

While this is described as a democratic election, I submit it needs improvement, and it is easy to fix. Our neighbor co-op across the bay, Choptank Electric, has been doing mail-in voting for 10 years. Its ballot is simply included in the bill preceding the election.

Some of the best minds in Southern Maryland help administer this election, and many are very experienced in the local and state electoral process.

In all fairness, I ask them to encourage the board to open the voting to all eligible co-op members.

You, the members of SMECO, deserve to vote. I urge you to contact the board proposing to open the vote to all members. The address is: SMECO Board of Directors, SMECO, Box 1937, Hughesville, Md. 20637, or by e-mail, info@smeco.coop. I thank you for your interest and look forward to seeing you at the next annual meeting.

Mike Thompson

Hollywood

Election Official Off Base

The defense of Maryland's system of paperless electronic voting machines by Francis J. Mason, president, Board of Elections of Charles County [Extra, Sept. 19], reveals how little the current leadership of our election bureaucracy understands the serious problems inherent in this new technology.

The most critical arguments advanced by advocates of a voter-verified paper audit trail were ignored in the Mason letter, and a prominent local academic expert was smeared by false claims of conflict of interest.

The procedures outlined in the letter are irrelevant to the major flaws of Maryland's system. Voters have no way to verify that their choices have been accurately recorded by the machine and there is no ability to conduct a recount or audit.

Election officials refuse to acknowledge these facts, however, and instead mislead citizens with false claims of accuracy and security.

Just last week it was demonstrated at a news conference in Washington that the central tabulating program for Maryland's Diebold system has a secret back door that allows votes to be switched from one candidate to another without detection. This vulnerability is in addition to the hundreds of security holes in the voting machines found by the Johns Hopkins study of July 2003 and the two official state studies ordered by the governor and the legislature.

Instead of following the recommendations of these studies, which call for a paper audit trail, election officials attack the messenger.

The person derisively labeled a "hacker" in the Mason letter is Michael Wertheimer, a 23-year veteran of the National Security Agency, where he was the top information security specialist. He testified in court last month that he still gives the Maryland system a failing grade for security.

Avi Rubin, the computer security expert who led the Hopkins study, was never on the board of directors of a competing voting machine company as the Mason letter claims. Dr. Rubin, like many academic experts, was on a technical advisory panel for a company that did not compete with Diebold, and he received no compensation.

The Campaign for Verifiable Voting in Maryland (www.TrueVoteMD.org) is organizing citizen poll watchers for the November election because we cannot trust our election officials to safeguard the foundation of our democracy.

We challenge them to debate the facts of this important issue before the public anywhere in the state.

Robert Ferraro

Co-director, Campaign for Verifiable Voting in Maryland

Burtonsville

Voting Safeguard

I must respond to Mr. Mason's letter to the Southern Maryland Extra ["Machines: A 'Yes' Vote" Sept. 19] describing the touch-screen voting process and safeguards.

I do not want to go back to paper ballots, but I do want a "paper trail" -- not, as Mr. Mason asserts, to change election results in my favor, but to enable a recount in the unlikely but possible instance of a voting machine malfunction.

Mr. Mason's description of the entire touch-screen process should set everyone's mind at ease concerning "hackers" getting into the computers or software biased toward specific candidates.

But I am concerned about an omission. He does say: "The voter authority card (VAC) is placed in a bag attached to the [voting machine used by the voter]. At the end of the day, the number of votes registered on the machine must match the number of VAC cards in the bag on that unit."

He doesn't say what would be done if the numbers don't match. Presumably, no votes made on that machine could be counted because there would be no way to tell what the missing or extra votes were.

I suggested in February that touch-screen machines should print a paper copy of each voter's selections and keep the copy inside the machine -- to be used only if a number discrepancy needed to be reconciled.

This would retain the simplicity, ease, speed and accuracy advantages of touch-screen machines but would still allow recounts.

I believe it is a reasonable compromise in light of requests by some groups that we return to paper ballots.

Bruce Kirk

La Plata

Teachers Seek Support

An open letter to former Calvert County public schools students:

The teachers and staff who supported you for many years are now asking for your support. Remember the teacher who gave you the love of reading, played games with you on the playground, tied your shoes and wiped your tears? Remember the cafeteria worker who found that hot lunch for you when you forgot your lunch money? Remember the custodian who not only kept your classroom clean but also reminded you to do your homework and found time to start a basketball club for you? We need your support.

The current superintendent can't find money to give teachers a raise even though we work with the lowest retirement plan in all the 50 states. He found enough money, however, to pay a high-powered arbitrator instead of using a federal arbitrator at no cost to your tax dollar.

Do you remember when we read the Constitution together and talked about the men who gave their lives to ensure that we all had the right to representation? Guess what? [The superintendent] doesn't think that teachers and the support staff of Calvert County deserve it. He feels it serves his needs better to have three administrators question one worker alone without a representative. He's even so unaware of your elementary teachers' needs, he said he didn't know we needed more planning time. This appears to imply that he thinks your education doesn't require much effort. Maybe that's because he hasn't driven past the elementary schools before or after hours, as many have, to see teachers' cars lined up.

Well, now it's time to educate him. Write, call or e-mail him about someone who made a difference in your life. Tell Superintendent J. Kenneth Horsmon that you don't want those who helped educate you to be treated this way. Tell him to stop spending your tax dollars on his mediators and to support those who supported you and who now support your children. Tell him to stop the political games and unfair bargaining practices that you've read about. Tell him that you want your money to go to those who teach and support your children every day. Now is the time to rally for someone who made a difference in your life. You may write to Dr. J. Kenneth Horsmon at 1305 Dares Beach Rd., Prince Frederick, Md. 20678, call 410-535-7207, or e-mail him at horsmonk@calvertnet.k12.md.us.

Beverly Martin

Mutual