- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 28, 2003

Officials overseeing four of the five municipal elections Tuesday in Montgomery and Prince George’s counties said yesterday they are confident that their electronic touch-screen voting machines are secure, despite lingering concerns that the machines are vulnerable to hackers and tampering.

“It’s actually more secure than it was before,” said Barry Smith, manager of election technology for Gaithersburg, one of the cities that used the Diebold AccuVote-TS in its elections two years ago.

Voters in Gaithersburg had an opportunity to try out the machines yesterday at three of the city’s five polling places. Few voters, however, came out to the Asbury Methodist Village polling place, where, historically, the highest percentage of voters cast paper ballots.

Election officials said the low turnout could indicate that voters in that precinct were satisfied with the touch-screen machines last time.

“This is better than the old system,” said Sarah Paxton, administrative secretary to Gaithersburg’s city manager. “It may take a voter only 30 seconds to vote.”

Registered voters must show identification to get a computerized card, which they then insert into the base of the machine. Once the card is in the machine, the names of all candidates are displayed on the screen.

Voters touch the names they are selecting. If they touch too many names, the screen will go blank and voters will have to start over. Once the preferred candidates are chosen, the machine will eject the card. The voters then must turn the card over to one of the judges who is overseeing the process.

Montgomery was one of three counties in Maryland to use the computerized voting machines in 2001. In July, a team of researchers at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore found that the underlying computer code in the machines was vulnerable to outside parties.

After the Hopkins analysis, Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a Republican, ordered San Diego-based Science Application International Corp. (SAIC) to review the system. Last month, SAIC reported that the system, “as implemented in policy, procedure and technology, is at high risk of compromise.”

Mr. Ehrlich and state election officials decided the flaws identified by SAIC could be corrected before the presidential primary election in March. Maryland agreed to purchase $55.6 million worth of machines just days before SAIC released its findings this summer. The machines are expected to be installed in 19 of Maryland’s 23 counties.

Last week, several members of the Maryland’s General Assembly asked for its own “independent” analysis that would, among other things, examine issues about the electronic voting machines. That report is scheduled to be concluded before the General Assembly convenes in January.

Despite prior reviews of the system, officials in the four of the five cities that will be using the machines Tuesday say they had no problems with them last Election Day. Those cities holding elections are Takoma Park, Rockville, Gaithersburg, Greenbelt and College Park.

“We had no problems in the last election,” said Catherine Waters, city clerk of Takoma Park, where voters next week will use the touch-screen machines to select a mayor and six City Council members.

Voters in Greenbelt will use a different computerized voting machine when they elect all five members to the City Council.

“I don’t think anyone is batting an eye,” Greenbelt City Clerk Kathleen Gallagher said.

However, voters in College Park will not use the touch-screen machines when they go to the polls to choose a mayor and four council members.

“We will be using paper ballots,” which might be old-fashioned but are familiar to about 10,000 registered voters, said Yvette Allen, of the City Clerk’s Office.

The municipal elections in Montgomery and Prince George’s counties are dominated by unopposed incumbents.

In Rockville, voters will decide whether to elect a mayor and City Council every four years, instead of two. This will be the 59th city election in the city’s 116-year history, said Neil Greenberger, the city’s public information officer.

Voters in Gaithersburg will be electing three of the five council members.

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