ANNAPOLIS – The voters of Dorchester County would be very happy to keep their mechanical lever voting machines for the 2002 election, according to Delegate Adelaide Eckardt, D-Dorchester.
The lever machines, also in use in Allegany and Prince George’s Counties, are supposed to be decertified Jan. 1, and Eckardt said the voters of her county were none too happy about it.
Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., D-Prince George’s, is sponsoring the Senate bill to extend the lever machines, a 180-degree reversal from his legislation to end their use. Eckardt had tried, and failed, to exempt Dorchester County from that bill.
Now, she may get her way – temporarily, at least. Eckardt’s House bill and Miller’s Senate bill would extend use of the lever machines until the 2004 election. By then, Maryland is expected to have a system with uniform technology and procedures.
A special commission on voting procedures recently finished its report to Gov. Parris N. Glendening recommending statewide use of fully electronic voting machines. The governor had hoped such a system would be available for the next election, which will feature a gubernatorial race in which Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend is widely expected to run.
But the commission decided 2002 was too soon for such a system, and local board of election officials worried they wouldn’t have time to train poll workers and educate voters.
Counties switching from lever machines would face that scenario in two consecutive elections.
“I don’t want this to be something we rush into . . . we need time to put these machines in the malls, and let people vote for their favorite sports players,” said Catherine Davis, of the Allegany County Board of Elections.
As in most legislation, cost may be the most important factor driving the bills. Boards of Elections are state agencies, but they are paid for entirely by the counties. The fiscal note attached to the House bill estimates a cost of $500,000 just for Dorchester County.
Davis said Allegany County was planning to spend $600,000, virtually unaffordable for the cash-strapped region.
“Most people agree there should be one system for the state,” said Sen. Richard Colburn, D-Dorchester. But, it would be ridiculous if they had to buy a new system in 2002 and again in 2004, he said.
Secretary of State John T. Willis said Glendening intends to help fund voting system changes.
Miller isn’t happy about the legislation to undo his earlier work getting rid of the lever machines, but he accepts it. “I would love for this bill not to be necessary . . . it’s just buying them (some) extra time.” – 30 – CNS-2-23-01