Groups push for upgrades on electronic voting machines

March 19, 2004|By Johnathon E. Briggs | Johnathon E. Briggs,SUN STAFF

In a move to force Maryland to upgrade its 16,000 new electronic voting machines, a citizens group in Takoma Park has teamed with a national organization headed by a founder of Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream to press for passage of legislation that would require a paper record of votes cast.

TrueVoteMD.org and TrueMajority, an advocacy group founded by ice cream mogul Ben Cohen, ran a full-page ad in The Sun yesterday urging the public to call two key committee chairwomen in Annapolis -- Sen. Paula C. Hollinger and Del. Sheila E. Hixson -- and recommend passage of House Bill 53 and Senate Bill 393.

The bills would force Maryland to add printers capable of printing out every ballot cast in the November election, allowing voters to verify their vote before leaving the polling place. Those ballots could be counted by hand should a recount by required.

"I think it's imperative that it be in place in time for the November 2004 election," said TrueVoteMD.org co-director Linda Schade, who alleged yesterday that malfunctioning machines caused inaccuracies in some primary election results. "Our goal is to get a sound voting system for Maryland."

State elections officials say the machines are reliable and performed well during the primary.

Maryland spent $55 million on the Diebold AccuVote-TS touch-screen machines that were used in the March 2 primary in every state jurisdiction except Baltimore, which is scheduled to switch to Diebolds in 2006. Critics say a paper trail is crucial given research showing that the ATM-like machines are vulnerable to tampering by hackers who could cast multiple ballots or switch votes.

Legislators and state elections officials said yesterday that they are supportive of the measure, but want to ensure that a system would preserve ballot secrecy.

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