- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 7, 2006

ANNAPOLIS (AP) — The state Board of Public Works, with reluctant support from Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., approved a $2.4 million contract yesterday to buy computer poll books that will be used at early voting sites for the September primary.

The machines will replace that paper records of registered voters that were maintained at polling places during previous elections.

“We’re going to vote for this because we have no other option,” Mr. Ehrlich told Linda H. Lamone, state elections administrator.

The governor, a Republican seeking re-election, questioned whether the electronic poll books will work, but said, “It’s the only protection against fraud.”

Mrs. Lamone and Ross K. Goldstein, her deputy, assured the board that they have full confidence in the machines manufactured by Diebold Inc.

“We feel very confident this will be a successful operation,” Mr. Goldstein said.

The contract covers 200 machines that will be used when Maryland, for the first time, allows voters to cast ballots at a limited number of polling places the week before the primary and general elections.

The state will need 5,500 machines at an estimated $16 million to $17 million to cover all polling places on Election Day, Mr. Goldstein said.

Mr. Ehrlich again registered strong opposition to the early voting law passed by the Democrat-controlled General Assembly.

The governor and other critics argue that early voting — combined with no requirement that voters show photo identification to prove who they are — is an invitation to fraud.

Republicans have argued that voters will be able to go from one polling place to another during the week before the election, casting multiple votes.

But Mrs. Lamone said the electronic poll books will discourage fraud because when a voter casts a ballot at one polling place, the fact that person has voted will show up immediately on electronic poll books at all other polling places.

Mrs. Lamone pressed the board to approve the contract, saying state and local election officials would have to put much of the planning for the primary election on hold if there was a further delay.

Guy Mickley, a Howard County administrator and president of the Maryland Association of Election Officials, said he greeted the approval of the contract with “a big sigh of relief. A big sigh.”

Only three months remain before early voting begins, but Mr. Mickley said that will be enough time to implement all the changes, including early voting, that will take place this year.

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