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Balloting fight splits voters league

SAN FRANCISCO -- A battle over electronic voting is threatening the cohesion of the nonpartisan League of Women Voters, whose national leadership is refusing to endorse demands by hundreds of members for a paper trail to guard against fraud, hackers, and malfunctions.

Some local chapters are so angry that they are flouting regulations and planning to speak against the national stance today and tomorrow at the league's biennial convention in Washington. They are threatening to nominate new board members and a new candidate for president who would rescind the league's support for paperless voting systems.

''We think the league has in some way failed us," said Genevieve Katz, 74, a member of the Oakland, Calif., chapter who has collected more than 700 signatures from members upset with the league's national stance on paperless terminals.

The 130,000-member nonpartisan organization, a champion of social reforms and voting rights since 1920, weighed in on the e-voting controversy last year. Leaders said paperless terminals, which about 30 percent of the electorate will use in the November election, were reliable.

They had ''no reason to believe" computer terminals would ''steal your vote," the league said officially.

That angered hundreds of members from chapters around the country, particularly in Silicon Valley, who say the systems jeopardize elections. Legitimate recounts are impossible without paper records of every vote cast, they say.

League bylaws stipulate that local chapters must act ''in conformity" with the national organization's stances. Individuals who take contrary positions cannot identify themselves publicly as league members.

League president Kay Maxwell said paperless computers, which can be equipped with headsets and programmed in multiple languages, make voting easier for blind and illiterate people, and for those who do not speak English.

Also, she said, demanding a paper trail so close to the presidential election would require hundreds of counties that have installed electronic systems to spend millions of dollars on printers, paper, and technical upgrades at the last minute.

Maxwell said the league could reverse its stance, but that was unlikely, particularly before November.

''We'll continue to look at this issue and others and take our stances based on where we think the facts lead us," she said.

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