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District Judge Puts Diebold Opponents in Their Place - 100 Feet Away

By Joseph Bacchus
Capital News Service
Friday, Oct. 22, 2004

BALTIMORE - Independent voting machine monitors must adhere to the 100-foot perimeter around polling places that applies to other activist groups on Election Day, a U.S. District judge ruled Friday.

TrueVoteMD, a nonpartisan group that opposes the Diebold touch-screen voting machines, had sought a temporary injunction to break the 100-foot barrier in place to keep partisans actively campaigning for a candidate or issue from harassing voters.

TrueVoteMD wanted its own people inside polling places so they could monitor any potential problems, said TrueVoteMD attorney Daniel Williams. He said their presence would be no more intrusive than that of exit-pollers, who are allowed within the barrier.

An attorney for the state argued that TrueVoteMD volunteers would be there to hurt the election, not help it.

"What the plaintiff proposes to do in the 100-foot zone is yell fire in a crowded movie theater," said Assistant Attorney General Michael Berman.

Judge J. Frederick Motz sided with the state. He said TrueVoteMD volunteers questioning voters inside a polling place would be electioneering, and would disturb the "moment for peace, private repose and reflection" to which all voters are entitled before casting their ballot.

"Frankly, as a voter I don't think it's too much to ask for 100 feet of peace," he said. "Let us alone."

The hearing also sought to resolve some confusion over an earlier agreement between TrueVoteMD and the State Board of Elections.

While at one point there was a deal in place to allow TrueVoteMD volunteers within the 100-foot barrier, the board rescinded the deal after discovering the group still planned on suing the state on another matter, according to Berman. Williams maintained the broken deal was retaliation for the pending litigation.

Motz disagreed with this point as well, saying "people can reconsider actions responsibly without acting in retaliation."

TrueVoteMD and the State Board of Elections have had a rocky recent history. The group claims the lack of any paper trail makes the Diebold voting machines susceptible to error and fraud. The Maryland Court of Appeals rejected that argument in September, ruling the state did not have to provide paper ballots or a paper record for the machines.

After Friday's ruling, Maryland state elections' chief Linda Lamone said she was pleased - and not at all surprised at the decision.

"It reaffirmed my belief that the state has a compelling interest . . . in giving voters a private space," she said. "It would have been extremely disruptive to have advocacy groups inside 100 feet."

Lamone and TrueVoteMD co-founder Linda Schade got into a brief argument outside the courthouse after the ruling. As Lamone spoke to a group of reporters, Schade interrupted to tell Lamone it was Maryland election officials who first said TrueVoteMD could have representatives inside the 100-foot barrier. The two then exchanged several terse statements.

"You don't know what you're talking about," Lamone said to Schade as she walked away.

Schade said she was disappointed with the court's decision, and pointed to the case and Lamone's comments as proof that the state is "overlooking problems" in the voting process.

Schade said the judge's ruling does not stop TrueVoteMD volunteers from being poll watchers using credentials for individual political parties. Schade said she expects to have poll watchers in about 100 precincts on Election Day.

Copyright 2004 University of Maryland Philip Merrill College of Journalism

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