ANNAPOLIS – A special gubernatorial committee stepped closer Thursday toward creating a statewide voting system for the 2002 election, despite a lack of evidence that widespread voting problems exist in Maryland.
“The governor wants to move toward a statewide system, and that’s where we’re going with this,” said Secretary of State John T. Willis. Willis clarified the committee’s mandate as one to unify the technology and procedures for all 24 of Maryland’s voting jurisdictions.
The governor created his Special Committee on Voting Systems and Procedures in response to the 2000 presidential election in Florida, where tens of thousands of votes were discarded because of overvotes, when voters mark more than one candidate for a single seat.
In Maryland, only Montgomery County has a punch card system, that allows overvotes, but even that county’s totals show less than 1 percent of the votes were rejected.
According to Willis, the number of spoiled ballots statewide was only about six-tenths of 1 percent, well below the national average.
Most Maryland ballots require voters to color in arrows corresponding to a candidate’s name. The ballots are then read by a scanner, which alerts the voter and election officials if there is an error. The voter can then choose to correct the ballot.
Baltimore uses an electronic system, which prevents overvotes, although undervotes, where no candidate is chosen for an office, are possible. Three of Maryland’s voting jurisdictions use older, lever voting machines, which also prevent overvotes.
The committee must submit a report on its findings by Feb. 9. At least one member – House Minority Leader Robert Kittleman, R-Howard – said he is unsure how unified or specific the recommendations will be.
County officials have a number of concerns about any statewide plan.
John Woolums, associate director of the Maryland Association of Counties, said boards of elections are administered by the state, but funded by the counties. He said he worried counties will be stuck with an unfunded mandate to upgrade voting systems.
Willis indicated the governor was committed to providing money to help the counties in this effort.
Probably the biggest constraint in changing voting systems is time. The governor would like any new system to be ready for the 2002 elections, but experts and county officials warned there may not be sufficient time for voter education and training for poll workers.
Committee member Marvin Cheatham exhorted the committee twice to include adequate time and separate financial resources for training and education.
The committee’s next meeting will be Feb. 1, with another possible work session scheduled for Feb. 7.
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