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Trial Begins In Challenge To Electronic Voting Machines

Associated Press 

POSTED: 3:18 pm EDT August 25, 2004
ANNAPOLIS, Md. Opponents of touch-screen electronic voting machines launched a broad attack Wednesday on Maryland's system, arguing that it is riddled with flaws that must be fixed to assure an accurate vote count in November.

The more than 16,000 machines used in Maryland "are uniquely insecure and vulnerable to outside attack," Laura Thoms, lawyer for TrueVoteMD, said at the opening day of a hearing in Anne Arundel County Circuit Court.

But Assistant Attorney General Michael Berman said the potential problems cited in the suit are based on "theoretical security vulnerabilities" that have not materialized in previous elections, including the March primary. Berman also told Judge Joseph P. Manck that opponents filed their lawsuit too late and there is no time to make major changes before the general election.

"The greatest threat to a secure election is an eleventh hour change," he said.

Arguments on TrueVoteMD's request for a preliminary injunction are scheduled to last three days. The organization is asking that the state be ordered to equip machines with printers that would make a paper copy of each ballot and that election officials be required to prove that they have corrected security flaws cited in two studies conducted for the state.

Maryland and Georgia are the two states that use touch-screen machines in all polling places. In Maryland, the machines were used statewide for the first time in March. Officials say the election went smoothly with only a few minor problems.

Thoms said the plaintiffs will prove that the Diebold machines are vulnerable to fraud by computer hackers as well insiders intent on changing the outcome of elections. She disputed Berman's argument that it is too late to make the changes requested in the lawsuit.

"The implementation of the requested remedies will not significantly disrupt the election process," Thoms said.

She also said election officials in other states are carrying out the same kind of changes that Maryland officials have refused to make.

Daniel F. Goldstein, lawyer for the Maryland chapter of the National Federation of the Blind, asked Manck to reject the request for a preliminary injunction. "We're not talking about trodding on something newfangled and untested here," he said.

Goldstein said the machines used in Maryland are among the best for blind people, who can for the first time cast ballots that are truly secret. The machines allow blind people to vote by listening to their options on headphones and recording their votes instead of having someone mark ballots for them.

Lawyers for TrueVoteMD put two witnesses on the stand at the morning session - Nancy von Euler, an election judge in Montgomery County, and Jeffrey Liss, a Montgomery County lawyer who said the U.S. Senate race was not listed on his machine during the primary election.

Von Euler said one machine had to be shut down because it would not allow voters to review their choices before pushing a button that casts the vote and another was shut down because it highlighted the wrong choice when a voter touched the screen.

Both witnesses said they do not trust the touch-screen machines to accurately record their votes and would vote by paper ballot if that were allowed in November.

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