Judge asked to dismiss suit against voting system

July 23, 2004|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,SUN STAFF

Lawyers for the state Board of Elections and the National Federation of the Blind of Maryland asked a judge yesterday to dismiss a lawsuit that seeks to decertify Maryland's 16,000 electronic voting machines until upgrades are made to the new voting system.

The Takoma-Park based Campaign for Verifiable Voting and other plaintiffs sued in April. They contend that the touch-screen system does not comply with state law because it is vulnerable to security weaknesses and needs a paper trail for recounts, backup and audits.

Yesterday, Assistant Attorney General Michael D. Berman argued that the organization waited until seven months before the general election to file suit and then sought expedited relief from the court for a political dispute that is not subject to the court's review.

The group failed last spring to persuade the General Assembly to enact legislation to upgrade the machines for the Nov. 2 presidential election.

About a dozen visually impaired people attended yesterday's hearing before Anne Arundel County Circuit Judge Joseph P. Manck.

The National Federation of the Blind wants to continue the use of the new machines, said Shelly M. Martin, attorney for the group.

Martin argued that the technology enables blind voters to cast secret ballots, instead of bringing other people into voting booths to help them.

But the Campaign for Verifiable Voting, better known as truevotemd.org, and others contend that the $55 million system manufactured by Ohio-based Diebold Election Systems needs immediate upgrades.

An optical scanner system, previously used in much of the state, should be used for the November election, said Ryan P. Phair, an attorney for the group.

Manck heard about an hour of arguments but did not say when he is likely to rule. Last month, he sent the case for mediation by retired Court of Special Appeals Judge Raymond A. Thieme, planned for early to mid-August.

If the case is not dismissed or resolved in mediation, a motion for a preliminary injunction will be heard starting Aug. 25.

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