ANNAPOLIS – Counties that purchased voting systems within 10 years wouldn’t have to participate in a uniform statewide voting system until 2006, under an amendment to a Senate bill Thursday.
The bill was originally designed to allow three counties to continue using older lever machines until 2004 – two years past a mandated sunset date – to allow time for a new system to be put in place.
Without the original language, Dorchester, Allegany and Prince George’s counties must replace their outdated systems, and if the measure becomes law, would have to buy into whatever machine is selected by the State Board of Elections.
A House bill that closely resembles the amended Senate bill already has the lower chamber’s approval.
The amendment is the latest twist in Gov. Parris Glendening’s quest to unify the voting machines and procedures in Maryland, which began in December 2000 when he appointed a Special Committee on Voting Systems and Procedures.
The governor appointed the committee 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 continues to be 2002 for the statewide system. But the added costs of new voting machines caused several jurisdictions to protest, especially Baltimore, which recently spent nearly $5 million dollars for its electronic system.
Baltimore’s system, purchased in 1998, may also end up as the one chosen by the state. It uses a direct recording electronic system, which was recommended by the special committee.
Caroline County also purchased voting machines in 1998, and would be exempt. Caroline and 18 other jurisdictions use the optical scan system, recommended for absentee voting by the special committee.
Seventeen other jurisdictions lease systems. Montgomery County owns its punch card system, which is more than 10 years old. Those jurisdictions would be required to evenly split the lease or purchase cost of a new system with the state.