SUSSEX COUNTY-A group of county residents are asking officials to revamp electronic voting machines to provide a paper trail for recounts and voter verification. The yet unnamed group has chosen voting machines as the first in a series of citizen issues they want to get people thinking about n issues they say go beyond political party affiliation. "It's kind of like having a civics class," said Carla Kostelnik of Andover Township, a member of the group. "We're thinking beyond party lines. Our focus is to have a dialogue of all voters of every party. Hopefully we can do that." Members of the group took their concerns over electronic voting machines to the Sussex County Freeholders last month and started an Internet forum on its website, www.northjerseyforum.org, where they're hoping to spark enough interest to bring the issue to the forefront of county officials. The group is still loosely formed and doesn't have a set membership, however, its meetings are attended by about a dozen people each month, said group member Tim McCabe. He said the group was formed as part of the Democracy for America group, the grassroots effort of supporters of Howard Dean's run for the Democratic nomination for president. Sussex County members of the group wanted to keep the spirit of Democracy for America alive, while opening it up to all political parties. "We wanted to stay together, but broaden our focus on local issues," said McCabe, a Newton resident. The group has chosen electronic voting machines as its first issue, a topic that is a growing concern and the subject of two bills being considered by Congress. The county's electronic voting machines, installed in 2001 to replace punch cards, have no paper backup copies. Nationally there has been some debate over electronic voting machines' inability to handle recounts without a paper trail, as well as concern that voters have no proof that their votes were counted correctly. Elections Systems & Software Inc., the company that manufactures the county's iVotronic touch screen voting machines, has said it has a prototype available of an add-on mechanism that will print out a hard-copy of the voter's choices, either for the voter to review or to be saved for possible recounts. McCabe's group's website includes a commentary by Howard Burrell, former freeholder, who urges current county officials to discontinue use of the electronic voting machines until they can be equipped with printers. Burrell, who was on the Board of Freeholders when the machines were installed, said he feels responsible for pushing the issue. "As a person actively responsible for setting up those machines, I felt I had a responsibility to do something about it," Burrell said. As a freeholder, he helped lobby state and federal leaders to get funding for the new electronic machines, after the punch-card debacle in the 2000 presidential race caused the county concern over their machines. Burrell said he has not personally approached the freeholders because he doesn't want to turn the issue into a political or personal issue. Burrell, who is a Democrat, has used op-ed commentaries to urge the Republican-dominated freeholder board to act. "What I'm saying is, I'll step up first. Would you please join me,' " Burrell said. Joe Keslo, chairman of the Sussex County Board of Elections, said the board is looking into what can be done to improve the voting machines. "We've been discussing it," Keslo said. "We're looking into it." He said the board hasn't contacted ES&S yet, but he is confident the company can handle whatever changes the county decides on. McCabe said the Board of Elections is the next stop for his group, which has already addressed the freeholders and written letters to state representatives. He points out that the group is not accusing anyone of wrongdoing, but that the machines should be better equipped before there is a problem. "With the presidential election coming up, I would hate for people to question how their vote was counted," McCabe said. He pointed to citations of elections in Iowa, California, Texas and Virginia, where electronic voting machines failed to record votes. Burrell himself points to recent local elections where candidates lost by three or four votes. "It only has to come up once," Burrell said. The group plans to conduct a poster drive to post fliers encouraging people to get out to vote.