- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 21, 2004

Supporters of a paper trail for electronic voting machines ran full-page advertisements on Thursday in newspapers in Maryland and Florida, calling for a tangible record of each ballot cast in the November election.

Ads in the (Baltimore) Sun and the Palm Beach Post show a touch-screen computer from Diebold Election Systems, the Ohio-based company that makes Maryland’s machines, sprouting monster fangs, its screen displaying a time bomb and reading, “System Error! Vote Data Lost.”

Diebold and Maryland elections officials say the machines are safe and never have recorded an inaccurate vote.

The Maryland ad implores state Delegate Sheila Ellis Hixson and Sen. Paula C. Hollinger — key Democratic members of committees considering paper trail legislation — to support their cause.

“There’s such an easy, reasonable, inexpensive solution to this problem,” said Ben Cohen, co-founder of Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream and president of TrueMajority.org, the advocacy group funding the ads. “Just have the machine print out a receipt, just like an ATM does.”

Supporters want a “voter-verified paper ballot,” meaning each voter would get a copy confirming the way he had voted, which he then would turn over to a poll worker.

David Bear, a Diebold spokesman, said the company’s machines have built-in printers, used to print a paper audit of the election at its conclusion. He said it’s technologically possible for the machines to be modified to provide a piece of paper showing someone had voted, although it had yet to be done.

Mrs. Hixson, Montgomery Democrat, said Maryland lawmakers didn’t think they could put printers in each precinct by November.

“We don’t have time,” she said Thursday.

Mrs. Hollinger, Baltimore County Democrat, said lawmakers wanted to “at least put a printer or a couple of printers in each polling place” for the November election.

After the March 2 primary — the first Maryland election to use all touch-screen machines — state officials reported scattered problems, largely blamed on human error, but declared the election a success.

Maryland is spending $55.6 million to move toward an entirely electronic system. Linda Lamone, state elections administrator, said the state’s 16,000 electronic voting machines performed well, and she anticipates they’ll do so again in November.

• Soldiers’ advocate

Maryland Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. reached into the Democratic legislative ranks for his new state secretary of veterans affairs.

Mr. Ehrlich appointed Delegate George W. Owings III of Calvert County to the post on Wednesday.

Mr. Owings replaces Thomas “Tim” Hutchins, who is now state police superintendent.

Mr. Owings is majority whip in the House of Delegates and has been a member of the House since 1988.

Mr. Ehrlich said he had the pleasure of serving with Mr. Owings for eight years in the House. He said Mr. Owings is a decorated veteran of the Marine Corps who will be a “highly effective advocate” for Maryland troops.

Mr. Owings served in the Marines from 1964 to 1968, most of that time in Vietnam.

• Party switch?

The election for Baltimore County executive is more than two years away, but there is talk that a Democrat may be poised to switch parties to challenge incumbent James Smith.

Maryland Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. said last week that Baltimore County Council member Joseph Bartenfelder is a conservative Democrat and would be a good fit in the Republican Party.

The governor said Mr. Bartenfelder talked with him last month about switching parties and running against Mr. Smith. Mr. Bartenfelder said he didn’t bring up the subjects during the recent meeting with Mr. Ehrlich, but Mr. Bartenfelder has considered seeking the office in the past.

• ‘Tired and weary’

Virginia lawmakers were working through a special session last week to come up with a compromise on the state’s budget, and the House of Delegates has allowed its legislators to lead each day’s opening prayer.

When the special session began Wednesday, Delegate Ward L. Armstrong, Henry County Democrat and a local deacon, led the opening prayer.

“We are tired and weary and homesick,” Mr. Armstrong said, blessing Democrats and Republicans but not mentioning the two independent delegates. “We need your blessing not because we’ve earned it or deserve it. … Bless us not because we have succeeded, but because we have tried.”

Mr. Armstrong said in the course of legal debate, “we sometimes step on one another’s toes,” and also made sure to bless the state senators down the hall.

Also leading prayers this week were Delegates Samuel A. Nixon Jr., Richmond Republican; Dwight Clinton Jones, Richmond Democrat; L. Preston Bryant Jr., Lynchburg Republican; and R. Lee Ware, Powhatan Republican.

The 100 delegates voted to be paid $115 daily for their days of extra work, while the 40 state senators opted to forgo their per diem.

The special session is good news for some, however.

Though there likely will be less lobbying than in the regular session, the influx of lobbyists, staffers and Capitol visitors brings money into the coffers of Richmond businesses.

“The General Assembly has a tremendous impact on the hotels, restaurants and the hospitality community,” said Jack Berry, president of the Richmond Metropolitan Convention and Visitors Bureau. “It fills the hotels and restaurants.”

mNine good women

Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski — the longest serving woman currently in the U.S. Senate — plans to gather her fellow female senators for a fund-raiser at Baltimore’s National Aquarium today.

Miss Mikulski’s campaign manager said the gathering is to be the first-ever fund-raiser outside Washington to host all nine female senators.

Tickets are $250 to hear the senators and $1,000 to attend the dinner. Miss Mikulski, a Democrat, has raised more than $3 million toward election to a fourth term in the Senate. She faces Republican candidate E.J. Pipkin in the general election Nov. 2.

Christina Bellantoni and Robert Redding Jr. contributed to this column, which is based in part on wire service reports.

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