LETTERS TO THE EDITOR

The Baltimore Sun

Optical-scan system offers verifiable vote

Melissa Harris has done her usual fine job of reporting on the challenges the legislature faces in improving the state's election system ("Lawmakers focus on voting issues," Dec. 20).

Maryland, one of six states to vote statewide on paperless, touch-screen voting machines, and one of two to use the Diebold system, is considered by many election experts to have one of the least verifiable, least secure voting systems in the nation.

As we saw in disputed legislative races in Anne Arundel County in November, there is no way to do a meaningful recount of paperless voting.

However, the article's suggestion that the state might trade in the current touch-screen system for the "upgraded" Diebold version - one with a poor-quality, paper roll record of the vote - is not the solution.

As Ms. Harris reported, the use of this AccuVote TSX system caused major problems in Cuyahoga County, Ohio, this year.

The review of that system by the Election Science Institute found that a hand count of the paper record did not agree with the machines' tabulations.

Moreover, there were many problems with the accuracy and readability of the paper printouts.

Maryland voters deserve a paper ballot - one that is marked by the voter and optically scanned at the polling station.

This would be the most cost-effective replacement for the current system.

Maryland got out in front of the country in moving to the new and untested touch-screen voting technology in 2002.

It is time for a pause.

Mary Howe Kiraly

Bethesda

The writer is communications coordinator for the Election Defense Alliance, a national nonprofit group working to ensure verifiable voting.

A chance to undo futile death penalty

I wasn't surprised to read in The Sun that the Maryland Court of Appeals had struck down the state's protocols regarding the use of lethal injection ("Ruling opens possibility of indefinite end to executions," Dec. 22).

Although the court's decision focused on a technical issue of administrative law, the ruling follows recent decisions in California and Florida that have led to a suspension of lethal injection pending further review ("Death penalty on hold in Fla.," Dec. 16).

This ruling gives the state of Maryland an opportunity to address head-on the futility of our capital statutes.

The death penalty costs far more money to administer than sentencing murderers to life in prison without parole costs, wasting tax dollars that could be used to actually prevent crime and protect our communities.

It sends innocent people to death row. And in Maryland, we have proof that the death penalty is racially skewed.

It is time for Maryland to get rid of this wasteful policy and replace it with sentences of life without parole.

Gail Baker

Baltimore

Who will speak up for Evans' victims?

I just wish The Sun and other foes of the death penalty would express as much compassion for the victims of murderous crimes as they do for the killers.

For instance, in the editorial "O'Malley's call" (Dec. 21), The Sun says, "At the very least this legislative session, he [Gov.-elect Martin O'Malley) should push for reform of the current method of lethal injection to avoid the inhumane and painful procedure now used by the state."

Did Vernon Evans' victims not suffer a painful and inhumane procedure when they were killed?

Who has spoken for them?

Ron Parsons

Glen Burnie

President's words sow more confusion

I am sorry but it is my humble opinion that our president has no clue as to what is going on in this world ("Bush says his work is unfinished," Dec. 21).

As a very senior citizen, I must respectfully state that he is the most complete failure of any president in my lifetime.

Does anyone know what he is saying these days?

Are we winning in Iraq? Are we losing? What is our mission?

Matthew J. Smith

Forest Hill

Injustice anywhere offends all of us

Leonard Pitts' column condemning all forms of discrimination is right on the mark ("Black or white, gay or straight, discrimination is still discrimination," Opinion

Commentary, Dec. 17).

Mr. Pitts accurately drew a correlation with the struggle for equal rights for gays and lesbians and the black civil rights movement of the 1960s.

During that era, many gays and lesbians joined arm-in-arm with their black brothers and sisters in taking part in marches in the South.

They also pushed for black voter registration in Selma, Montgomery and other campaigns in the civil rights movement in an effort to expand democracy to all of America's citizens and foster social justice. And often they risked their lives in the effort.

While there are African-Americans who are loath to equate the two movements, a significant number of black civil rights leaders, elected officials, prominent clergy and others recognize the contributions of gays and lesbians in the black civil rights movement and see gay rights as part of the broader quest for human rights.

The Rev. Jesse Jackson, the Rev. Al Sharpton, Kweisi Mfume, Julian Bond, Rep. John Lewis and the late Coretta Scott King come to mind.

Mrs. King, who knew a thing or two about civil rights, once said, "I still hear people say that I should not be talking about the rights of lesbian and gay people and I should stick to the issue of racial justice. ... But I hasten to remind them that Martin Luther King Jr. said, 'Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.'"

Mr. Pitts echoes Dr. King's view that discrimination of any kind is unjust, and I applaud him for that.

Steve Charing

Clarksville

Despair of homeless cannot be simulated

I don't need to be Parisian to know that homelessness cannot be simulated ("Parisians try out homeless lifestyle," Dec. 19).

I found myself homeless for the first time in the spring of 1994, when my marriage broke up. Little did I know that I'd cycle in and our of homelessness for more than another 11 years. That's how long it took me to find affordable housing.

And I know that spending a night in a tent, as these Parisians are doing, knowing full well that they can return to their cozy beds anytime they like, is not homelessness.

Homelessness is terrifying, intensely lonely and dangerous because of the exposure to the elements and the likelihood of becoming a crime victim.

Homelessness is despair.

When I was homeless I had no money. What does that mean?

It means you don't eat. It means no phone. It means no bus fare to get to a shelter. And it means no professionally made clothing.

It means no hope.

For people who are interested in finding out what it's like to be homeless, I highly recommend Jonathan Kozol's book Rachel and Her Children: Homeless Families in America.

And don't ever forget how lucky you are if you have a home, because homelessness can happen to anyone.

Elana Snyder

Baltimore

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