Wednesday, February 1, 2006

ANNAPOLIS (AP) — The state does not have time before the 2006 elections to equip electronic voting machines with printers that make a paper record so voters can confirm that their ballots were recorded accurately, Maryland lawmakers were told yesterday.

“I don’t see how it would be possible,” Donald F. Norris, professor of public policy at the University of Maryland at Baltimore County, said during a hearing on the machines before the House Ways and Means Committee.

Mr. Norris directed a study commissioned by the State Board of Elections to look into the possibility of adding equipment to the Diebold touch-screen machines to provide a paper trail.

The university was asked to test seven systems that could be added to machines, but only four manufacturers provided machines for the study.

Mr. Norris said all four systems are prototypes and are not commercially available. Even if they were available on the market, he said, he doesn’t think it would be possible to solicit bids, buy the equipment, add it to the existing machines and train election administrators before the September primary election.

The Diebold machines have been under attack in Maryland and across the country. Critics say the machines can be manipulated easily and the results can’t be trusted to reflect the way voters cast their ballots.

The Ways and Means Committee is considering legislation to require a paper trail that will assure Marylanders their votes are recorded accurately and allow for recounts in contested elections.

Delegate Sheila E. Hixson, Montgomery Democrat and chairman of the committee, said the committee will continue to look at options for a verifiable voting system despite the conclusions of the Norris report.

“It won’t stop us from going forward,” she said.

Delegate Nancy J. King, Montgomery Democrat, said she was disappointed with the presentations by Mr. Norris and Paul S. Herrnson, a University of Maryland professor who led a second study that looked at how difficult it would be for voters to use the machines if a paper trail is incorporated into the Diebold machines.

“The cry from my constituents is that they want something done by September,” she said.

Mr. Norris said he recently completed a survey of 800 voters to test their feelings about the Diebold machines. Although results are still being analyzed, the study “does not appear to support the notion that there is widespread mistrust of the system,” he said.

Critics of the Diebold machines questioned the value of the two studies because the election board, which has defended the accuracy and reliability of the machines, decided which systems for providing a paper trail would be studied.

“That’s intolerable,” said Robert Ferraro, a co-founder of the Takoma Park-based TrueVoteMD, which has been in the forefront of the campaign against continued use of touch-screen machines that do not maintain a paper record of each ballot.

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