ANNAPOLIS – Two days before Friday’s deadline to submit its report, members of a special voting commission recommended a delay in creating uniformity in the state’s voting system over concerns of time and technology.
The decision to postpone installing some new voting system in Maryland beyond the next gubernatorial election in 2002 could mean significant trouble and expense for several counties under the gun to replace their troubled balloting machines.
Gov. Parris N. Glendening appointed the special commission on Maryland’s voting systems in the aftermath of the 2000 presidential election confusion in Florida and nationwide concern over voting accuracy.
The overwhelming concern at the commission’s final work session on Wednesday, was that sweeping changes cannot be made for the 2002 election – the target date set by Glendening. Instead, panel members are recommending the state’s 24 voting jurisdictions begin moving toward a unified system by 2003 or 2004.
Some county election officials have agreed, saying any change would require significant time for voter education and poll worker training.
But without changes some county election officials may find themselves in a fix.
Allegany, Dorchester and Prince George’s counties use the older lever-type machines, which, by law, cannot be used for the 2002 election in Maryland.
To continue to use those machines beyond the deadline would require a change in election law, said Secretary of State John T. Willis, something there may be little political willingness to do.
That could put those counties in a situation where they would end up purchasing or leasing two expensive voting systems in one four-year election cycle.
This would be an enormous waste of money, said commission member Emmett Paige Jr., because the counties can continue to use the lever machines with no additional cost.
Technology, or the lack of it, is at the heart of the commission’s other main concern. The commission is looking at installing Baltimore’s fully electronic voting booth – called a Direct Recording Electronic system or DRE – statewide. But a study on the reliability of voting systems released Feb. 1, said “punch card methods and systems using direct recording electronic devices had significantly higher average rates of spoiled, uncounted, and unmarked ballots than any of the other systems.” Data from Maryland’s election results seem to support this finding. Although Baltimore’s rate of spoiled ballots was only .72 percent with the DRE, that was more than double the state average. The study, conducted by the CalTech/MIT Voting Project, also found “manually counted paper ballots have the lowest average incidence of spoiled, uncounted, and unmarked ballots, followed closely by lever machines and optically scanned ballots.” Nineteen of Maryland’s 24 voting jurisdictions use the optically scanned ballots, and election consultant Roy Saltman, a commission member, warned against recommending only DREs for use in the state. Saltman outlined several other problems with the DRE system including longer waiting lines, and difficulty of use. Other systems allow multiple voters to cast ballots simultaneously, however in the DRE system, the voting booth is the ballot, so only one citizen may vote at a time. Another drawback of the DRE system is that it does not generate an independent paper ballot that can be verified in a recount, several commission members said. “If the computer has been manipulated to miscount the votes, it can be manipulated also to create an incorrect paper record,” Saltman said. The commission’s other findings have been mostly reassuring. Maryland had the third lowest number of no-votes in the nation in 1996, and probably among the five lowest for the 2000 election, according to Willis. No votes include the number of votes spoiled by selecting too many candidates for a race – an overvote – or not voting for a race – an undervote. – 30 – CNS-2-9-01