Lawsuit challenges Md. voting machines

Truevotemd.org says new electronic system fails to meet state law

Paper trail sought for ballots

April 22, 2004|By Johnathon E. Briggs | Johnathon E. Briggs,SUN STAFF

A citizens group in Takoma Park will file suit today against the state Board of Elections, contending that Maryland's 16,000 new electronic voting machines fail to comply with state law. The lawsuit, to be filed in Anne Arundel County Circuit Court, asks that the machines be decertified until the manufacturer fixes security flaws and the devices are upgraded to print paper records of cast ballots.

The lawsuit brought by the Campaign for Verifiable Voting -- better known as truevotemd.org -- alleges that state elections officials violated the law when they certified the touch-screen devices and failed to decertify them once computer experts found they were susceptible to vote-switching.

The lawsuit notes that Maryland election law states the elections board cannot certify a voting system unless it determines that the system is secure, reliable and "capable of providing an audit trail of all ballots cast so that, in a recount, the election can be reconstructed."

State law also requires that the board decertify a system if it "no longer protects the security of the voting process," the lawsuit adds.

"The goal of the suit is to decertify the machines unless and until we can remedy well-publicized security vulnerabilities with the machines and institute a voter-verifiable paper-audit trail so that we can have a meaningful recount in the November 2004 election," Ryan P. Phair, a Washington attorney representing truevotemd.org, said yesterday.

Referring to the 2000 presidential election debacle, he added that his client wants to ensure that Maryland "does not become the next Florida."

"The machines used in Maryland ... violate the confidence of Maryland voters; they violate Maryland law; and they violate the principle that every vote counts," said the group's co-director Linda Schade, a plaintiff in the case. "This voting technology puts our very democracy at risk at a time when we can little afford a second uncertain and contested election result."

The lawsuit is the latest maneuver by truevotemd.org to force Maryland to upgrade its AccuVote-TS voting machines -- which cost the state $55 million -- manufactured by Ohio-based Diebold Election Systems.

The group wants the state to require that the machines' built-in printers produce individual receipts for voters to review before leaving the polls. Voters would have the option of correcting machine errors. The receipts would be saved by the state and could be tallied against a computer count should a recount be required.

But advocates for visually impaired voters fear that a paper trail requirement will strip them of their right to a secret ballot.

Two bills supported by the citizens group in this year's General Assembly session would have required the state to upgrade the machines in time for the Nov. 2 presidential elections, but they failed to become law.

"They went to General Assembly to get legislation, and policy-makers of the state said no. So I guess this is what they feel they need to do," said Linda H. Lamone, administrator of the state Board of Elections, who is named as a defendant in the lawsuit but had not yet seen the 59-page complaint.

Lamone said the Diebold machines are reliable and that the state has taken measures to protect against the potential threats outlined by computer experts.

"It's a shame that people are so tunnel-visioned, saying that the only solutions to their perceived problem is paper when there is [paperless] technology ... that will probably do what they want," Lamone said.

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