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Judge set to hear arguments in suit to ban electronic voting

Associated Press Writer

October 25, 2004, 4:04 PM EDT

TRENTON, N.J. Millions of New Jerseyans may already know who will get their votes next week, but a judge on Tuesday is to hear arguments about just how they'll make those picks.

Superior Court Judge Linda R. Feinberg is scheduled to consider whether to ban electronic voting, a case that could affect how 3 million residents cast their ballots in the presidential election.

At issue is whether touch-screen voting _ which is set to be used in 15 counties in the Nov. 2 general election _ is reliable technology or prone to manipulation. The 8,000 electronic voting machines sparking the controversy in New Jersey contain no backup paper trail, so there is no way to verify balloting by recount.

The Constitutional Litigation Clinic at Rutgers University filed the lawsuit on behalf of Assemblyman Reed Gusciora, D-Mercer, two advocacy groups _ Coalition for Peace Action and new Jersey Peace Action _ and a Hopewell Township voter who had difficulty casting her ballot on an electronic machine in the primary.

The Rev. Robert Moore, the head of Coalition for Peace Action in Princeton, said the lawsuit is a last-ditch effort to preserve the sanctity of voting after eight months of trying to broker a solution.

With electronic voting "there is no way to ensure that every vote is counted properly," Moore said. "Voting is the bedrock of American Democracy."

Florida, Maryland and California also have challenged electronic voting.

New Jerseyans use either electronic or mechanical voting machines, depending on where they live. All but the following counties have electronic voting: Camden, Cape May, Cumberland, Essex, Monmouth and Warren. Votes on electronic machines are recorded by pushing buttons. On mechanical machines, voters use levers to candidates.

Feinberg is to hear arguments Tuesday afternoon, with the New Jersey Attorney General's Office arguing the case for the state.

Markus Green, chief of staff for Attorney General Peter Harvey, said some counties have used touch-screen voting for nine years without problems.

"We're confident elections are going to go forward and in the way they are scheduled to go forward," Green said. "The public can be confident that every vote will be counted in New Jersey."

Moore and the others behind the lawsuit want the judge to require paper verification of all votes cast through electronic voting machines. He said if the judge agrees, New Jerseyans likely would vote by paper ballot, and the votes would be counted by optical scanners, already used to count absentee ballots.

But Green says changing the voting method for millions of people one week before the election would be "an undue hardship" on poll workers, election officials and voters.

"The last thing we want to do is confuse voters and discourage voter turnout," he said. "There is no reason other than unfounded skepticism _ it's unfair to the voter."

Dr. Andrew Appel, a Princeton University professor who teaches a course on voting machines, said any software program could contain glitches and that all software is vulnerable to fraud.

"The problem with completely electronic voting machines is what we have to trust is computer software hidden inside the machines," he said. "It's not clear who has control of that software and who those people are accountable to."

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