- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 15, 2006

ANNAPOLIS (AP) — Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., citing concerns over electronic voting machines and early voting legislation enacted by Democrats over his veto, said yesterday that he no longer has confidence “in the State Board of Elections’ ability to conduct fair and accurate elections in 2006.”

In a letter to Gilles Burger, chairman of the board, Mr. Ehrlich said he supports a paper ballot or some kind of paper trail that voters could use to verify that their ballots cast on the state’s Diebold touch-screen machines were recorded and counted accurately.

“Right now, the state of Maryland is not prepared to conduct an election, let alone early voting,” Mr. Ehrlich, a Republican, told reporters after meeting with House Speaker Michael E. Busch, Anne Arundel Democrat, to discuss his concerns.

The governor said he does not know what can be done at this point. He asked the elections board to provide, by the end of February, answers to a series of questions about the Diebold machines and the ability of the state to implement the new law that will allow voters to cast ballots at a limited number of precincts during the week before the September primary and November general elections.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, Prince George’s Democrat, rejected the governor’s complaints, saying: “He’s trying to create confusion and chaos” before the election.

“It’s not the type of leadership one would expect from the governor,” Mr. Miller said.

Mr. Miller said he is confident that the election results will be recorded fairly and accurately. He said he also is convinced that local boards can provide a way for voters to cast ballots during the week leading up to each election, a move that he said will encourage more Marylanders to vote in the primary and general elections.

Mr. Busch sided with Mr. Miller. “I think the election process will go well,” he said.

The speaker also said he, like the governor and Democratic leaders in the Senate and House of Delegates, would like to provide some kind of paper trail that would allow voters to ensure that their votes are recorded correctly.

“There has always been great concern that there is no paper trail,” he said.

The Diebold machines used in Maryland do not include a voter verification system. A study conducted for the elections board said there is too little time between now and the primary election to upgrade the system to provide a voter-verifiable paper trail.

Mr. Ehrlich said some other states and local election boards have either decertified or denied certification to the Diebold machines because of fears that vote-counting memory cards are susceptible to tampering that could change election results.

David Bear, spokesman for Diebold Elections Systems, defended the accuracy and reliability of the machines used everywhere in Maryland for the 2004 elections except Baltimore, which had a different electronic voting system.

“Not only have they been successfully used for many years in Maryland and are certified in Maryland at the federal and state level, they have been used in many elections across the country,” he said. Mr. Bear said he could not comment directly on the concerns expressed by the governor as he had not seen Mr. Ehrlich’s letter.

Calls to Linda Lamone, state elections administrator, and her deputy, Ross Goldstein, were not returned yesterday.

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