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Proposals push for early voting, option of using paper ballots

February 02, 2007|by ANDREW SCHOTZ

Maryland's elections administrator on Thursday proposed adding optical-scan machines to the current electronic touch-screen system, giving voters a paper-ballot option if they want it.

Linda Lamone said she was responding to "a consensus that we move forward" on paper-trail voting, amid concerns that electronic elections are vulnerable to tampering.

An optical scanner reads paper ballots voters have marked with a pen or pencil. In a touch-screen system, voters use electronic ballots.

The discussion came up Thursday as the House Ways and Means Committee held hearings on election changes, including an early-voting period for Marylanders.

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A plan last year to let people vote five days before the primary and the general election, even outside their home precincts, was struck down in court.

Opponents have said the state constitution only allows voting on one day for each primary and general election. The state Court of Appeals agreed.

House Speaker Michael E. Busch, D-Anne Arundel, filed a bill this year to allow early voting by changing the state constitution.

Supporters say early voting would make the process more convenient and encourage more people to take part.

Del. Sheila E. Hixson, D-Montgomery, the Ways and Means Committee chairwoman, filed a separate bill calling for paper records in elections. During Thursday's hearing, she called it "a work in progress."

Hixson's bill is "the most secure, and fiscally responsible, solution to our election voting woes," Shazia N. Anwar, the director of TrueVoteMD, a group devoted to election issues, told the committee.

Anwar spoke in favor of optical-scanning machines, which are seen as a better option by those worried about the vulnerability of all-electronic elections.

However, Lamone expressed doubts about making paper ballots official. In a written statement, she said that would make "a hand count the official tally even though hand counting is far less accurate than a machine or computer count."

Michael I. Shamos, a Carnegie Mellon University computer science professor, told the committee three weeks ago that paper ballots run a higher risk of inaccuracy and fraud than computer voting.

He said there are so many checks and balances over electronic voting systems, the likelihood of sabotage is "effectively zero."

Asked after Thursday's hearings what the ideal election system would be, Lamone said there's a new technology that's not yet ready for the state to use. It offers an electronic independent verification system of votes, she said.

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