WASHINGTON – A voting watchdog group said it was filing suit against the Maryland State Board of Elections and its administrator Thursday to force an upgrade of the state's electronic voting machines.
The group, Campaign for Verifiable Voting in Maryland (search), said the machines are vulnerable to voter fraud and technical malfunction and must be backed up with a paper audit trail before the November presidential election.
"This needs to be done to make sure that Maryland does not become the next Florida," said Ryan Phair, an attorney representing the voters group.
State officials conceded the machines can be improved -- in more areas than just a paper voting record -- and that they are taking steps to do that. But they have confidence in the new electronic machines.
"We have had two risk assessments done on this equipment. They have identified actions that can be taken and we will be addressing every one of them for November," said Linda Lamone, administrator of the Board of Elections.
The planned lawsuit would force state officials to decertify the electronic voting machines until the manufacturer, Diebold Election Systems (search), upgrades them so that voters receive a paper receipt from the machine to verify that their votes were correctly counted.
Linda Schade of Campaign for Verifiable Voting in Maryland said use of the voting machines violates state law because the Board of Elections cannot certify that they are secure and reliable.
"This technology puts our very democracy at risk," Schade said. But Lamone said the group is hung up on paper.
"I think it is tunnel-vision to say that paper is the only solution," Lamone said.
She said the board is making several improvements. For example, a slot that holds each machine's memory card has been sealed with "tamper tape" (search) that changes color if someone tries to remove it to guard against voters swapping out the memory cards.
"I have no objection to improving the system. I will look into other technologies, but I do not want to be locked in to paper as the only solution," Lamone said.
One technology the state is currently exploring is a Web-based system that would let voters enter a personal identification number to verify their vote online.
David Bear, a spokesman for Diebold Election Systems, said the electronic voting machines (search) are safe and that those who fear they that elections manipulated or the machines hacked are "conspiracy theorists."
"The fact of the matter is that it has never happened and the likelihood that it will happen is nonexistent," Bear said.
The lawsuit, which will be filed in Anne Arundel County Circuit Court, is the latest salvo in a fight between the watchdog group and the Board of Elections over the security of the electronic machine.
Lamone said she met with Campaign for Verifiable Voting in Maryland last fall and tried to convince it to stop its movement against the electronic voting machines.
"Obviously I failed on that," she said.