Voting device debut in Md. is uneventful

Poll workers around state report no large glitches in municipal elections

November 05, 2003|By Stephanie Desmon | Stephanie Desmon,SUN STAFF

A handful of Maryland municipalities welcomed voters to the polls yesterday, some providing a first look at the touch-screen voting machines set to be the future of elections statewide.

Cities and towns reported no major glitches with the machines made by Diebold Election Systems, which have been criticized as being vulnerable to hackers and tampering. Yet the day did not pass without some dispute, as members of the newly formed Campaign for Verifiable Voting handed out fliers protesting their use.

"There is a lot of concern about this," said Kevin Zeese, a Takoma Park attorney leading the protest. His biggest complaint is that a traditional recount cannot be conducted because there is no paper trail once a vote is cast. Using these machines, he said, a recount would involve pushing the same button and recording the same number.

Four counties used the machines during last year's gubernatorial election. Two more - Kent and Wicomico on the Eastern Shore - used them for the first time yesterday.

The rest of the state's counties are expected to have them in time for the presidential primary next spring. Baltimore, which uses a different type of electronic machine, is expected to have the new ones installed by 2006. The state is spending $55.6 million to install the devices.

In July, a team of researchers based at the Johns Hopkins University concluded that the underlying computer code in Diebold's machines could be vulnerable to tampering. Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. then ordered another review, which found the system "at high risk of compromise." But purchase of the machines will continue, officials said.

Yesterday marked the machines' debut in Salisbury, where voters were choosing three City Council members. By midday, City Clerk Brenda Cogsgrove said turnout appeared to be ahead of September's primary, when 24.1 percent of 8,000 registered voters cast ballots using optical scanners.

"I was out this morning giving demonstrations on the new system for elderly voters or anybody who needed it," Cogsgrove said. "Everything seems to have gone very smoothly - no problems, no complaints."

Officials in Chestertown, Rockville and Gaithersburg also reported a smooth day. "So far, so good," said Mary Beth Smith, a spokeswoman for the city of Gaithersburg.

Sun staff writer Chris Guy contributed to this article.

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