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Paper-Ballot Advocates Plan Ohio Expert Team

Frustrated by Republican resistance to their legislative attempts to require voter-verified paper trails in time for the 2004 elections, Congressional proponents of auditable voting machines said they are preparing to implement their own stop-gap procedures if things go awry in November.

Ohio Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D) said she and other Members of Ohio’s Congressional delegation are organizing a “brain trust” of election experts and lawyers to be on hand to assist election officials if the state has “problems on Election Day.” Ohio is considered the “new Florida” in 2004, not because of a known propensity for voting problems, but because the state could prove decisive in this fall’s election.

“We call it Ohio Team 2004,” Kaptur said, explaining that the group will coordinate with the Kerry campaign to ensure that they do not duplicate efforts.

“This really has to do with the security of elections in Ohio and making sure that there is a group of experts and knowledgeable individuals who have participated in elections and understand election law and procedures, [that] will be available on Election Day … to answer questions of any election official who may have a question,” Kaptur said.

New Jersey Rep. Rush Holt (D), who is leading an effort in Congress to pass legislation requiring a paper-ballot trail, said he is “working to see that we have a national clearinghouse in every state.”

“I’ll do it myself if necessary,” Holt vowed.

The Democratic lawmakers outlined their plans during a packed press conference that also featured such notable speakers as former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean and California Secretary of State Kevin Shelley.

Activists affiliated with groups such as circulated clip boards around the room to collect signatures for letters asking Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) to join their crusade by co-sponsoring bills in his chamber. Sens. Bob Graham (D-Fla.) and Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) both have proposed separate pieces of legislation to tackle the problem.

Several Democrats had harsh words for House Republicans, who have refused to hold hearings on Holt’s bill. Holt would require that all electronic voting machines have a voter-verified paper trail by November. The bill has more than 140 co-sponsors, but it is unlikely to go anywhere this Congress.

Dean — who wrote House Administration Committee Chairman Bob Ney (R-Ohio) earlier this year calling on him to act on Holt’s bill — said he was disappointed with Ney’s recent reply.

“I got a letter back from Bob Ney claiming I was a left winger and all that stuff,” Dean said, shaking his head.

“The truth is, if people don’t think their votes count, they won’t vote,” Dean told the crowd. He then appealed to a higher-ranking Republican lawmaker to take action.

“I call on [Majority Leader] Tom DeLay to put aside this ridiculousness and nonsense and pass [Holt’s bill],” Dean said.

Holt, meanwhile, said he is growing impatient with those blocking his efforts and is considering filing a discharge petition to try and move his bill.

Rep. William Lacy Clay (D-Mo.), who also spoke at the event, promised to push for hearings on the matter in the Government Reform Committee.

Earlier this month, Clay convinced his panel’s technology, information policy, intergovernmental relations and the Census subcommittee to hold a hearing on the topic. Clay said the hearing showed how some states have suspended the use of electronic voting equipment until they have been able to establish that they are secure, tamper-proof and accurate.

“We encourage other states to follow,” Clay said.

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