Ehrlich's concerns about voting persist

Governor says elections board has failed to address his questions regarding Diebold devices

March 02, 2006|By KELLY BREWINGTON | KELLY BREWINGTON,SUN REPORTER

Two weeks ago, Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. said he no longer had faith in Maryland's ability to conduct a fair and tamper-free election, and asked the State Board of Elections for a written response to his concerns about electronic voting machines.

Yesterday, a spokesman for Ehrlich called the Board of Elections' reply - received this week - "completely unsatisfactory and evasive."

"After reading this letter, we have even less confidence in the board's ability to conduct a fair election than we did two weeks ago," said Henry Fawell, an Ehrlich spokesman.

An official with the board defended Maryland's voting system yesterday, saying the letter provides the requested facts.

Ehrlich's letter to State Board of Elections Chairman Gilles W. Burger, a Republican, requested answers about recent controversies in other states over Diebold Elections Systems, the Ohio-based manufacturer of Maryland's voting machines. The governor said he wanted the state to adopt a voter-verified paper trail for its touch-screen machines, an issue that has been debated in the legislature for several years.

The governor's letter added a political dimension to the long-standing debate over the security and accuracy of Diebold machines. Some Democrats charged the governor with attempting to cast doubt on the state's voting system as an election-year ploy and attacking elections Administrator Linda H. Lamone, with whom he has clashed in the past.

Debate over Diebold intensified this year when California ordered testing of the company's machines after a much-publicized incident in which a computer expert hacked into the equipment during a mock election in Leon County, Fla.

Ehrlich's letter asked whether the testing in California had any bearing on Maryland's system.

Burger responded that California's software, specifically its memory card codes, are the same as those used in Maryland's system.

Joseph M. Getty, the governor's policy and legislative director, said that answer does not explain whether Maryland's machines are secure.

"What does all that mean?" Getty said. "The letter doesn't explain that at all."

Getty said the letter suggests to him that Maryland's system, particularly the software, has not been properly tested.

"It's all evasive statements without providing any facts to the governor," Getty said. "The response is blather."

Advocates for a new voting system say Burger's response is evidence that the state's system is not secure and violates federal guidelines.

"The same hackable software is on the voting machines we have," said Linda Schade of TrueVoteMD, which has criticized the Diebold machines for years. "Basically, somebody can go in and have the machines report a different election result."

Ross Goldstein, deputy administrator at the State Board of Elections, disputes that, saying its machines are secure and accurate. Burger's letter notes that although a report is pending in California, that state's secretary of state issued a news release certifying the use of Diebold machines, with certain recommendations.

"I think it's laid out pretty clearly in the letter," he said. "The information tested was reviewed by the [Independent Testing Authority], and the advisory board in California was still satisfied with it."

Maryland was one of the first states to implement electronic voting devices in 2003. The state spent an initial $55.6 million to buy the automated teller-like machines, abandoning in many areas optical-scan ballots, which provide paper verification. Critics have since complained of security flaws, though Lamone has defended the machines and observers have said they worked well in the 2004 election.

kelly.brewington@baltsun.com

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