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State's touch-screen machines receive mostly positive reviews
By Stephanie Desmon, Baltimore Sun 03 November 2004

Despite fears that the state's new touch-screen voting machines would fail under the weight of an extraordinary presidential election turnout, the equipment seemed to perform well overall and earned praise from voters.

"It was very, very easy," said Christine Evans, leaving Annapolis Elementary School's polling place with her husband, John. "We're computer illiterate, and we still thought it was easy."
Still, not everything was rosy. Some voters complained about missing races on their ballots and the hypersensitivity of the screens, which caused them to accidentally vote for the wrong candidate. Machines malfunctioned at several polling places, leaving voters waiting in line. And some people weren't ready when machines automatically skipped forward to the next screen.

Linda Schade, whose group TrueVoteMD stationed volunteers at polling places across the state to record voter complaints, said the group had received more than 400 phone calls by late afternoon. A national watchdog organization that monitored polls across the country reported more than 1,000 electronic voting problems.

"We got lots of calls about some pretty serious stuff, I feel," Schade said. Several of the group's volunteers returned from the polls last night with reports of vote counts that did not match the check-in numbers.

There have been concerns for over a year that the new machines would be vulnerable to attack or meltdown, and many critics said the system needs a paper receipt to be used in case a recount is required. Even some of those who were pleased with how easy the machines are to use still hope for a paper trail in the future.

"I liked the way the touch-screen worked," said Annapolis voter John Alden, 44. "I just don't trust that there's no paper trail."

Linda H. Lamone, the state's elections administrator, said she thought the day went fairly well and attributed any problems to human error, not the new technology. She mentioned a voter in Worcester County who knocked her purse into a machine and accidentally cast her vote too soon. Another voter jammed a machine by ing his driver's license into the terminal instead of the voting card.

There were other scattered problems that had nothing to do with the machines. Some people had trouble getting provisional ballots, including a soldier who had recently returned from Iraq, until state elections officials intervened.

Hundreds of student voters at the University of Maryland, College Park, were turned away because they had been improperly registered by a campus organization. Students lined up at the Stamp Student Union, many to cast their first vote. But once inside, many were told their registrations weren't processed properly because the paperwork for 500 new voters never made it to the Board of Elections.

Those students were told to cast provisional ballots, which will be counted next week if the voters are deemed legitimate.

"We had normal problems because people have been working very, very long hours," Lamone said.

Elections observers said problems that were expected to materialize nationally, especially with the increased use of the new touch-screen machines, also weren't as serious as anticipated.

"I would characterize today as no bigs but a few littles," said Doug Chapin, director of Electionline.org, a nonpartisan clearinghouse for election reform information. "We're not seeing anything huge of the nature of what seemed to go on in Florida four years ago."

One complaint heard across Maryland was that voters were a little uncomfortable with a lack of privacy, which allowed others to see how they cast their votes.

"They probably should have included a curtain," said Towson University student Katie Masterson, 23, after voting at Germantown Elementary School in Annapolis.

Sun staff writers JoAnna Daemmrich, Liz F. Kay, Sara Neufeld, Jonathan D. Rockoff and Justin Fenton contributed to this report.

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