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High Court Tosses Complaint Against Touch-Screen Voting Machines

By Stacy Kaper
Capital News Service
Tuesday, Sept. 14, 2004

ANNAPOLIS - There will be no paper ballots or audits for Maryland voters in the November election, Maryland's high court ruled Tuesday.

The Maryland Court of Appeals rejected the appeal of a group of voters who claimed the state's $55 million touch-screen voting machines are not secure enough.

The plaintiffs, part of a citizen's organization called TrueVoteMD, say voting machines need to be able to produce a paper record to avoid the kind of problems occurring during the contentious 2000 presidential election, when vote counts and recounts in Florida held up the final decision for weeks.

Ryan Phair, the plaintiffs' attorney, argued during an hourlong hearing before the court Tuesday that the State Board of Elections has not done enough to ensure that the Diebold AccuVote TS machines meet the required security standards for elections. One of the main problems, Phair said, is that voters cannot be certain their votes are being accurately recorded by the machines. In the event of a recount, the machines will merely reprint what they initially recorded, he said.

However an attorney representing the National Federation of Blind Voters, Daniel Goldstein, called the TrueVoteMD members' case, "All passion and no proof." Recounting paper ballots, he said, does not improve the integrity of the intended vote cast on those ballots.

A real blow to the plaintiffs' case came when the court's seven judges pointed out that all the security studies voters cited had also found that voting with paper ballots was the least accurate voting method.

"The bottom line is that there is no way for voters to verify or audit their votes," said former Prince George's County Democratic Delegate Joan Pitkin. "I don't think that the court or the State Board of Elections is in tune with the voters and I think the voters are going to wake up and be very unhappy about this."

The appeals judges questioned whether the appeal should even have been heard in court and indicated that the General Assembly may have to weigh in on voting systems in the future.

Phair echoed that, saying his case is now focused on making improvements before elections in 2006. He is using state documents that could not be included in time for this case, including an internal report commissioned by the Maryland Association of Election Officials in May called "Lessons Learned," which points out numerous problems with training, communication and contracting for the voting machines.

Members of TrueVoteMD say the state board has tried to hide the findings of this report from the public.

The State Board of Elections and its attorney, Michael Berman would not comment on the case.

Barbara Fisher, president of the election officials association, called "Lessons Learned" an "in-house" document designed to improve the use of the voting machines. She said although state officials have not formally responded to the report, the situation has improved.

The Court of Appeals decision follows a weekend incident in which U.S. Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Maryland, reportedly had difficulty using one of the voting machines in a mock election at a festival in Takoma Park.

On Tuesday, Montgomery County Circuit Judge D. Warren Donohue issued a restraining order to force the return of the disputed machine after a local election judge took it for testing. Mikulski has added her name to proposed federal legislation that seeks a mandatory paper record for elections.


Copyright 2004 University of Maryland Philip Merrill College of Journalism

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