Montgomery County man surrenders voting machine

County goes to court for touch-screen unit

September 15, 2004|By David Nitkin | David Nitkin,SUN STAFF

A retired history teacher from Montgomery County has surrendered the touch-screen voting machine that stymied Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski last weekend, but not before an expert hired by the television show 60 Minutes was allowed to examine it and a judge ordered its return.

Stan Boyd, 63, appeared in Montgomery County Circuit Court yesterday to explain why he did not immediately give back the borrowed Diebold AccuVote TS machine after election officials asked for it.

After two days of wrangling, county elections supervisors recovered the voting unit at the Takoma Park home of Linda Schade, a co-founder of the Campaign for Verifiable Voting and the lead plaintiff in a lawsuit seeking greater protections in the state's new voting system. That's where the television show's computer expert had reviewed its operations.

Critical of board

Schade lashed out at what she called Montgomery's "KGB-type elections board" and its efforts to retrieve the device. The board obtained a court injunction yesterday, after an employee appeared at Boyd's home Monday to search for the unit and was denied access by Boyd's 15-year-old daughter.

"Here they are, demonizing this retired history teacher," Schade said. "The lengths these people are willing to go to cover up their troubled election system is truly astonishing."

Boyd is an election judge in Montgomery and a supporter of Schade's group's efforts to require the electronic machines to print auditable paper receipts. He borrowed the machine for demonstrations Sunday at the Takoma Park Folk Festival.

That's where Mikulski tried the unit, trying to vote "no" on a sample question. Her vote was displayed as "yes," a mistake that the senator, through an aide, attributed to human error and the sensitivity of the screen.

After reading an account in The Sun about Mikulski's problems, Montgomery election officials asked that Boyd promptly return the unit -- three days ahead of its scheduled return date -- so they could determine if it malfunctioned.

Boyd said he considered returning the machine Monday, but decided to let the CBS show look at it first. "That is in the public interest, for the public to know how these machines operate," Boyd said.

Boyd also accused Montgomery officials of aggressive attempts to get the machine back.

On Monday, when the article on Mikulski's travails was published, "I got seven calls from the board, and I got two calls from my house," he said, where elections officials arrived to try to retrieve the unit.

"They wanted to search my house," said Boyd, who was not home. "I did not want them harassing my daughter, who is only 15. But they did it anyway."

Montgomery officials countered that Boyd tried to deceive them. He first told them he could not return the unit because it was in the trunk of a car at Washington Dulles International Airport and then he said it was at Baltimore-Washington International Airport, according to a three-page account released by the county elections board.

County and state election officials said that Boyd had no permission to let the unit be examined by outsiders.

`Simply forbidden'

"He's simply forbidden from doing that sort of thing," said Linda H. Lamone, state elections administrator, adding that the demonstration unit was different from those that will be used in November.

"It doesn't have the new software," Lamone said. "It doesn't have new security features. Any testing would have no validity whatsoever, He has no legal right, and neither does 60 Minutes, to keep equipment owned by the state of Maryland."

A representative of the CBS show did not return a telephone call yesterday seeking comment.

Boyd did not disclose test results, but said he decided to relinquish the unit after the expert said disassembly was needed for a complete analysis. Boyd said he did not want the machine damaged.

In a related legal development yesterday, Maryland's highest court rejected a request by Schade's group that state voters be allowed a paper-ballot alternative in November if they don't trust the electronic machines.

During a 37-year career at Banneker High School in Washington, Boyd said he taught students that election outcomes can be manipulated.

"There have been lots of elections where votes have been stolen," he said.

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