Election board won't count paper ballots

Ruling follows complaint from Howard Co. voter

July 02, 2004|By David Nitkin | David Nitkin,SUN STAFF

The Maryland State Board of Elections will not count paper ballots used by Howard County residents who did not want to vote on new touch-screen voting machines in the March primary, according to a decision released yesterday.

A hearing officer for the elections board determined that even though Howard poll workers did not tell many voters that the provisional ballots they requested would not be tallied, the voters should have read the printed instructions and drawn the conclusion themselves.

"The complainant was clearly attempting to vote provisionally as a protest against the [electronic] units," said the decision from hearing officer Nicky Trella, a state elections official. " ... She must bear the consequences of not ensuring that her method of protest was consistent with the law."

The decision leaves 21 voters in Howard, and about 100 statewide, having cast votes in the primary that will never be recorded.

In May, the board heard a case brought by Helen K. Kolbe, a Howard resident who wanted her paper ballot opened. Kolbe testified that she did not trust the touch-screen machines manufactured by Diebold Election Systems because they did not print a verifiable paper trail.

Kolbe and hundreds of Marylanders wanted to vote by paper ballot, an alternative advocated by a group seeking paper receipts for the touch-screen machines. In many counties, the requests were denied, since state law allows provisional ballots only if voters' names are not listed on precinct rosters. But in Howard, election judges did not know of the law, and allowed many to vote by paper.

Del. Elizabeth Bobo, a Howard Democrat and critic of the new voting system, said, "I am not satisfied with the outcome."

Sun staff writer Larry Carson contributed to this article.

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