Maryland Court Rejects Paper Ballots

Maryland's highest court Tuesday rejected demands for additional safeguards for touchscreen voting machines (search), saying elections officials have done everything necessary to ensure the paperless devices are accurate and secure.

The Court of Appeals (search) also rejected a call to allow citizens who do not trust touchscreen voting to use paper ballots in the Nov. 2 general election.

The decision came in a two-paragraph order issued less than three hours after the judges heard arguments on a suit brought by TrueVoteMD (search). The citizens group alleges the electronic machines, used statewide for the first time in March, are vulnerable to fraud and that the state cannot guarantee fair and accurate election results.

Lead plaintiff Linda Schade said that although the decision was not a surprise, it means voters "are going to be forced to vote on an insecure system."

Schade said the state delayed the suit so long that "judges found themselves challenged to find a remedy for this upcoming election that could be implemented in time."

Linda Lamone, state election laws administrator, said outside the courtroom that making significant changes in the voting system at this late date would have created chaos on Election Day.

Asked about the security of the state's 16,000 Diebold AccuVote-TS (search) electronic machines, Lamone said, "I'm very confident they are accurate and secure."

TrueVoteMD wants the state to equip all electronic machines with printers that would make a copy of each vote, although it acknowledged in court that it was too late to do that for the November election.

For the upcoming vote, the group had sought paper ballots for voters who mistrust the computer voting system, as well as additional security measures, such as installing Microsoft Windows software patches on the computers used to tabulate votes.

The group contends paper records would ensure that votes were properly recorded and could be used for recounts.

"We're basically playing Russian roulette," TrueVoteMD lawyer Ryan Phair said as he listed potential problems with electronic machines. "We know there is vulnerability. It is just a matter of time until it happens."

Assistant Attorney General Michael Berman said more than 20 successful elections have been held in Maryland using the Diebold machines with no evidence of fraud or allegations of inaccurate vote counts.

Phair mentioned allegations of glitches with computerized systems in other states, but said it might be impossible to detect widespread fraud such as rewriting of software to skew election results.

Phair said TrueVoteMD will continue its legal battle to force the state to use printers on electronic machines in future elections.

Also Tuesday, a local election judge was ordered to return to the Montgomery County elections board an electronic voting machine that U.S. Sen. Barbara Mikulski (search), D-Md., had trouble using in a weekend demonstration. The machine marked the wrong vote when Mikulski's hand brushed against the screen, and it took her several attempts to correct the vote.

The election judge, Stan Boyd, had tests performed on the machine, but would not elaborate on the tests or any findings.

Kevin Karpinski, an attorney for the county board, said any problems testing might uncover could be misleading because the machine was only for demonstration purposes and does not have updated software that will be used in the November election.