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Lawsuit to seek ban on use of electronic voting machines

Associated Press Writer

October 19, 2004, 11:51 AM EDT

TRENTON, N.J. Some 8,000 electronic voting machines should not be used by state residents on Election Day because they are unreliable, according to a lawsuit expected to be filed Tuesday.

The lawsuit, which is to ask a judge to forbid use of the machines, raises the specter of the 2000 Florida election controversy and could affect how 3 million New Jersey residents cast their ballots.

A spokesman for the Constitutional Litigation Clinic at Rutgers University said the lawsuit would be filed Tuesday afternoon in Superior Court in Mercer County. Penny M. Venetis, an attorney and law professor with the clinic, is representing a group of concerned citizens and local officials behind the lawsuit.

The group's claim is that there is no process for verifying that votes cast on electronic machines used in New Jersey are recorded properly and that results easily can be manipulated.

"Plaintiffs bring this lawsuit to ensure that every vote counts in the upcoming November 2004 election and that the Florida election debacle of 2000 is not replicated in New Jersey," the complaint says. "Those machines cannot be relied upon to protect the fundamental right to vote."

The electronic machines are expected to used by 3 million voters in 15 of New Jersey's 21 counties. Five counties in the state use mechanical lever voting booths and one uses optical scan machines.

The lawsuit said it would be easy for someone with knowledge of computer programs to change voting results. Instead, residents should vote on machines that use a backup paper ballot to record results.

"Anyone with basic knowledge of computer programming can write a software program that can disguise itself as a legitimate application and mask its malicious acts," the lawsuit said. "Thus the program can erase votes, or reallocate them from one candidate to the other and then erase its tracks."

There have been unsuccessful efforts in other states to block the use of electronic voting machines. An appeals court in Maryland recently rejected a similar lawsuit. A federal judge in Florida is scheduled to hear a legal challenge to the machines.

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