Poll observers in just 6% of Maryland voting districts recorded a total of 201 problems with electronic voting machines during the US presidential election, according to a report released yesterday by TrueVoteMD.
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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. More than 400 TrueVoteMD poll watchers observed the elections at 108 of the state's 1,787 voting districts.
Linda Schade, co-founder of TrueVoteMD, said poll watchers had seen problems that were "easily observable" rather than problems that might have happened inside the e-voting machines. She said that while the problems observed in the districts where the poll watchers were stationed might not be typical of all districts, they were probably a "small fraction" of the actual problems experienced with e-voting machines in Maryland.
"One of our greatest resources is the widespread common sense of Maryland voters, and also their passion to defend our democracy from a clear threat: non-transparent elections, unverifiable elections using error-prone secret software with gaping security holes and with a history of election failures," Schade said. "They are in complete agreement about one thing - that blind faith has no place in the voting booth."
TrueVoteMD and other groups have called for e-voting machines to include voter-verified paper trails - print-outs of each voter's choices that can be used in any subsequent recount. E-voting critics say independent recounts are impossible without such paper trails; if a recount takes place, most e-voting machines spit out the same set of disputed numbers again and again.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation and the Verified Voting Foundation have sent letters asking voting officials in eight counties across the US to allow independent testing of their e-voting machines. The eight counties - in Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas and New Mexico - were identified as experiencing significant e-voting problems on election day.
The Election Verification Project, a coalition of e-voting critics, recorded more than 1,800 voting machine problems - and that figures excludes the difficulties in Maryland. About half the problems related to paperless e-voting machines, according to Will Doherty, executive director of the Verified Voting Foundation.
But e-voting advocates have defended the machines as accurate and voter-friendly. Linda Lamone, Maryland election administrator, said the TrueVoteMD poll watchers had found only a handful of problems in the 16,000 e-voting machines used in the state. Replacement machines had been available in case of breakdowns, she added.
"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."
And county election judge Judy Dein said her district had 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 US voters used about 175,000 e-voting machines on election day, said Bob Cohen, senior vice-president at trade group the Information Technology Association of America. "You have a handful of incidents reported. The electronic voting issues were extremely small compared to the big picture."
Among the incidents reported in Maryland was a voter 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, while another voter said the machine switched her choices and she was directed to another machine.
Grant Gross writes for IDG News Service