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Observers find 201 e-voting problems in Maryland

 Grant Gross  The Industry Standard   23 November 2004 

Poll observers in about 6 percent of Maryland's precincts recorded 201 problems with electronic voting machines during the Nov. 2 general election, according to a report released Tuesday by TrueVoteMD.org. Poll watchers trained by the voting integrity activist group reported 42 cases of crashed e-voting machines, 37 cases of access card or encoder problems, and 30 screen malfunctions, according to the report. More than 400 TrueVoteMD poll watchers observed the elections at 108 of the state's 1,787 voting precincts.

TrueVoteMD poll watchers saw problems that were "easily observable" and not problems that may have happened inside the electronic voting machines, said Linda Schade, co-founder of TrueVoteMD. While the problems observed in the precincts where the poll watchers were stationed may not be typical of all precincts, they were likely a "small fraction" of the actual problems with e-voting machines in Maryland, Schade said.

"One of our greatest resources is the widespread common sense of Maryland voters, and also their passion to defend our democracy from what we see is a clear threat, which is nontransparent elections, unverifiable elections using error-prone secret software with gaping security holes and with a history of election failures," Schade said at a press conference. "They are in complete agreement about one thing that is that blind faith has no place in the voting booth."

TrueVoteMD, along with several national groups, has called for electronic voting machines to include voter-verified paper trails, which are printouts of each voter's choices that can later be used to recount ballots. E-voting critics say independent recounts are impossible without such paper trails; when a recount is demanded, most e-voting machines will spit out the same electronically generated set of disputed numbers again and again.

Separately, the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the Verified Voting Foundation announced late Monday they have sent letters asking voting officials in eight counties across the U.S. to allow independent testing of their e-voting machines.

Those counties were identified by the groups as encountering significant e-voting problems on Nov. 2. The problems were listed on a Voteprotect.org database after voters called in problems to a toll-free telephone number on Election Day. The counties contacted were Broward and Palm Beach in Florida; Mahoning and Franklin in Ohio; Mercer and Philadelphia in Pennsylvania; Harris in Texas; and Bernalillo in New Mexico.

The Election Verification Project, a coalition of e-voting critics, recorded more than 1,800 voting machine problems through the Voteprotect.org database, although the Maryland reports are not yet included. About 900 of the 1,800 reported machine problems related to paperless e-voting machines, according to Will Doherty, executive director of the Verified Voting Foundation.

E-voting advocates have defended the machines as accurate and voter friendly. Linda Lamone, administrator of the Maryland State Board of Elections, said the TrueVoteMD poll watchers found a handful of problems in 16,000 e-voting machines used in the state Nov. 2. Replacement machines were available in case of breakdowns, she added. Maryland uses Diebold Inc. e-voting machines.

"By all (Board of Elections) accounts, we had a successful election," Lamone said. "We planned for equipment issues this election just like we do in every election. You can't expect everything to work perfectly."

Two poll workers attending the TrueVoteMD press conference disputed that the problems described in the group's 18-page report were typical. Along with the 201 e-voting machine problems identified by TrueVoteMD poll watchers, another 330 nontechnical problems, including long lines and registration problems, were reported by the poll watchers.

But Judy Dein, an election judge in Ann Arundel County, said her precinct experienced no problems. "Our experience was different," she said after hearing about e-voting machine and registration problems from Schade and three poll watchers.

An estimated 40 million U.S. voters used about 175,000 e-voting machines on Election Day, said Bob Cohen, senior vice president at the Information Technology Association of America, a trade group that has e-voting machine vendors as members.

"You have a handful of incidents reported," Cohen said. "The electronic voting issues were extremely small compared to the big picture."

Among the incidents reported in Maryland were a voter in Montgomery County who said the machine went dark and spit out her ballot card before she finished voting. Another voter reported the machine shutting down while she was trying to correct her vote, and another voter in Montgomery County said the machine switched her choices and she was directed to another machine.

A poll watcher in Montgomery County reported two e-voting machines at one precinct crashing less than 75 minutes after polls opened.

TrueVoteMD's Schade called for the Board of Elections to adopt "systematic" quality control measures. Because of the secret software inside e-voting machines and the lack of TrueVoteMD volunteers at every precinct, the group doesn't know how many e-voting problems there were, Schade said.

"At a certain point, if we don't know the scope of the problems, we don't know if it's a legitimate election or not," Schade said. "Any rational organization would institute a quality-control program."

Nancy Almgren, a former candidate for Maryland House of Delegates, questioned why it was TrueVoteMD's responsibility to track e-voting problems. "I think the question is why is a citizens group doing this?" Almgren said. "Why isn't it being done by the state? If they're investing our money in this system, why aren't they verifying the results?"

The Board of Elections conducts an extensive review of voting issues, countered Lamone, the state elections administrator. "They take far too much credit," she said. "We have a huge process in place to monitor what's going on."

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