Ex-candidate campaigning for election integrity in Md.

Voting: An activist's quest to boost security measures at the ballot box has carried her into courtrooms and onto CNN.

October 30, 2004|By Stephanie Desmon | Stephanie Desmon,SUN STAFF

TAKOMA PARK -- The first time Linda Schade saw an electronic voting machine was on Election Day two years ago, when her name was on the ballot as a candidate for a seat in the Maryland legislature.

She knew nothing about the touch-screen system being tested in Montgomery County that day, nothing about the questions that would come up even as it was being expanded into nearly every precinct in the state. She quietly cast her ballot and went on her way.

She isn't being quiet anymore.

Although Schade lost her race for delegate, she has found herself in what she sees as a bigger role. She is the driving force behind the movement to ensure those voting machines are secure and can provide results that can be independently recounted if necessary.

"If we didn't have Linda, this movement would not have gotten to where it is," said Bob Ferraro, a Burtonsville activist who has worked alongside Schade. "There's no way."

Together they founded TrueVoteMD in the summer of last year, soon after a report critical of the machines was issued by a Johns Hopkins University computer scientist. It was the first of what would be many finding fault with the machines built by Diebold Election Systems, machines Maryland went on to purchase for more than $55 million.

Schade has been the face of TrueVote -- a face that has been popping up all over: at demonstrations; in court, where she was the lead plaintiff in an unsuccessful lawsuit to get the machines decertified; on CNN, where she debated Maryland's elections administrator.

She talks to reporters nearly every day, passing along tales of malfunctioning machines -- like one last month in which a Democratic slate of candidates failed to appear in a Prince George's County municipal race. She talks to her lawyers, including the ones who filed another unsuccessful lawsuit that sought to force the state to allow TrueVote volunteers to go inside the polls on Election Day as monitors.

She testified before the legislature last year in support of a bill that would have required the machines to produce a paper trail -- a paper record of how each vote is cast, reviewed by the voter and then stored in case a recount is required.

TrueVote was born after a meeting of a local anti-war coalition last year. One woman stood up and asked whether anyone was interested in the issue of voting machines. "The more we looked into it, the more concerned we became," Schade said. "We realized the real threat it posed to the notion of democracy and elections."

Schade, 40, grew up in New Jersey, where her anesthesiologist father and activist mother taught her about public service. As a college student, she marched against apartheid. Her first job out of Rutgers University was as a tenant organizer in the Bronx. She later worked in the Middle East as a planner.

In 2002, she ran for the legislature as a Green Party candidate. A consultant to nonprofit groups, she was working to set up her own public interest nonprofit when TrueVote was started.

"I am very committed to issues like this one, like elections integrity, because it is of such broad concern across the political spectrum," she said. "Not everyone agrees the Iraq war is illegal and highly unethical, but election integrity is something most people agree on."

TrueVote is being run out of the second floor of the brightly colored Takoma Park bungalow she shares with her longtime boyfriend, Kevin Zeese, a lawyer who works for Ralph Nader's presidential campaign. TrueVote started in her home office. She has taken over Zeese's, too, and is moving to convert a guest room. She seems to be constantly adding phone lines and has volunteers on hand to answer them.

TrueVote counts hundreds as members. Schade says 300 people had signed up to be poll watchers for the group, collecting information on machine malfunctions.

The questions being raised by Schade and her organization aren't being asked just in Maryland. California has said it will require the machines to produce a paper trail for elections in 2006. Nevada's machines already have been modified. The machines also have been under fire in the swing states of Ohio and Florida.

"Linda's got a real issue here," said Del. Elizabeth Bobo, a Howard County Democrat and a co-sponsor of the paper-trail legislation. "She's keeping the spotlight on it."

The praise is not universal. Linda H. Lamone, Maryland's elections administrator, is a frequent target of Schade's ire. Schade says Lamone refuses to acknowledge problems with electronic voting machines. Lamone, who has alleged Schade's group is trying to "disrupt the election," says she thinks Schade's motives are far from pure. "I think she's politically ambitious," Lamone said. "I know she's distorting the facts."

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