- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 7, 2003

Maryland officials will take no action on whether to use a brand of computerized voting machines next spring until they see the follow-up to a study that said results from the machines could be manipulated.

The original study — by researchers at Rice University and the Johns Hopkins University — concluded that voting machines by Diebold Election Systems, of North Canton, Ohio, used about two years ago in four Maryland counties could be scrambled and false votes could be cast.

The four counties — Allegany, Dorchester, Montgomery and Prince George’s — used the Diebold machines in the 2002 elections.

The state then committed $55.6 million for Diebold voting machines in the 19 other counties and in the city of Baltimore. The contract also includes service and maintenance of the machines.

Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a Republican, ordered an independent study two weeks ago, which will be conducted by Science Application International Corp. (SAIC) of San Diego.

Marilyn Praisner, chairwoman of the Montgomery County Council’s management and fiscal committee, said county officials will make no decision until they see information from the state.

“We need to see the results of the study,” she said.

Alisha Alexander, an assistant elections administrator in Prince George’s County, also said the study findings will determine whether the county will again use the computerized voting machines for primary elections in March.

SAIC will look at roughly 11,000 touch-screen AccuVote-TS voting machines.

The reported problems involved procedures and users becoming familiar with the machines.

They did not involve corruption, which the researchers said could occur.

However, Prince George’s County elections administrator Robin Downs said the machines worked fine.

Ms. Alexander also reported no problems.

Aviel D. Rubin, technical director of John Hopkins’ Security Institute, said in July that a voter could easily cast a vote on more than one ballot, and that a 15-year-old computer enthusiast could make counterfeit cards that would allow voters to cast additional ballots.

Rice University’s Dan S. Wallach said the Diebold system does not use encryption to conceal voting results or prevent tampering.

He also said the Johns Hopkins study focused almost solely on the software code, which would have allowed Internet access, but did not examine the software system, hardware, services, and poll-worker training.

Still, the study prompted a national review of electronic voting machines.

Since the Florida voting-machine problems in the 2000 presidential election, more machines are being made with touch-vote screens.

About 20 percent now have touch screens, compared with 3.9 percent in 1992.

New York is preparing to buy electronic touch-screen machines and phase out the mechanical and lever-style machines.

Diebold spokesman Mike Jacobsen said the company has shipped 40,000 of the machines to 37 states.

Diebolds are found only in Norfolk, and election officials there say they are pleased with them. In Virginia, each jurisdiction selects the voting machines it prefers.

Fairfax County has been using electronic voting machines since 1988.

“Everything is so protected,” said voting official Margaret Luca. She also said poll workers would notice if somebody was in a booth too long, casting illegal votes.

Arlington County has 205 of the same voting machines, which were displayed on a trial basis at a county fair.

“People at the fair really liked them,” said general registrar Linda Lindberg.

“Voters and officials have all been pleased with electronic machines in use since the mid-1980s.”

Last year, Congress passed the Help America Vote Act to replace the outdated punch-card and lever voting machines.

The $5.4 billion act included $649.5 million for states to buy new machines.

States must have the new machines ready for elections in 2006, said Penelope Bonsall, director of the Federal Election Commission’s Office of Election Administration.

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