ANNAPOLIS – The Maryland House of Delegates Wednesday overrode criticisms of timing, cost and technology to back a bill creating a statewide uniform voting system.
Delegates voted 120-16 for the bill, which mirrors recommendations of Gov. Parris N. Glendening’s Special Committee on Voting Systems and Procedures. That panel called for the State Board of Elections to select a single voting machine for statewide use.
The governor appointed the special committee in December 2000, after flaws in Florida’s voting systems caused hundreds of thousands of ballots to be discarded in the 2000 presidential election, postponing the outcome for weeks as court battles over recounts ensued.
Glendening’s goal is to acquire and implement a uniform system for the gubernatorial election next year. But even supporters are skeptical such a system will be in place by then, and there are some who question the Board of Elections’ ability to manage the process.
“I’m worried about giving more responsibility to an agency that has already failed us,” said Delegate Cheryl Kagan, D-Montgomery.
Flaws in the motor voter registration system caused an unknown number of voters to be turned away from the polls last Election Day, Kagan said. Software used by the local boards for voter registration also has been a disaster, she said.
That software was to be in place in 1999, but Kagan said it’s working in only four jurisdictions.
Linda Lamone, executive director of the Board of Elections, said preparations for the presidential elections interrupted that process, and they hope to be finished by summer.
Plus, Kagan said, a recent audit of the Board of Elections by the Department of Legislative Services found weaknesses in its management of information technology contracts, oversight of local boards and fiscal procedures.
Delegate John Arnick, D-Baltimore County, and House Minority Leader Robert Kittleman, R-Howard, committee members and bill co-sponsors, both said a 2002 deadline was a main concern.
The 2002 deadline contradicted the advice of many of the special committee’s members, but the governor and Secretary of State John Willis insisted, said Kittleman. He predicted the Board of Elections would have to inform the General Assembly next January that they cannot meet the deadline.
“If they move this too fast, they’re creating a Florida situation,” said Delegate Addie Eckardt, R-Dorchester.
The type of machine recommended for Maryland also stirred opposition because of costs to the state and counties. The special committee supported a direct recording electronic voting machine for statewide use – resembling the system used in Baltimore.
Baltimore purchased its system for nearly $5 million dollars. A statewide system would cost about $37 million, according to a legislative analysis.
Leasing machines would cost $5.8 million annually, plus $858,000 annually for maintenance.
But the Board of Elections could choose an optical scan system already in use in 19 of Maryland’s 24 jurisdictions, Arnick said. The cost would be significantly less, and selecting a widely used system raises the likelihood of uniformity in 2002, Arnick said.
The bill mandates an even split of costs between the state and counties. The governor has said he will include funds in this year’s supplemental budget.
But Kagan said she is frustrated because no system has been chosen and the Legislature would have no say in how much money is to be spent.
– 30 – CNS-3-28-01