WASHINGTON – Maryland advocates of paper records for electronic voting machines are renewing their cause after a report this week from a panel headed by former President Carter recommended receipts to alleviate voting security issues.
Critics of the Maryland State Board of Elections were buoyed by federal election reform recommendations released this week by the Carter-Baker commission — named for its leaders, Carter, and former Secretary of State James Baker III — and by the unexpected softening of two former opponents toward voter-verified paper records.
“Voting machines must be both accessible and transparent,” the Carter-Baker report said, adding that direct recording electronic machines, the kind Maryland uses, usually don’t allow voters to check if their ballot was recorded correctly. Some can’t be used for an independent recount, it said.
Maryland’s adoption of electronic voting has been criticized since the state purchased its first machines in 2001.
Critics charge the State Board of Elections spent millions of dollars on unproven machines from Diebold Elections Systems that are poorly made, crash frequently and require rebooting — sometimes, as a report on last year’s election by Montgomery County said, while voters were mid-ballot.
A Diebold spokesman said the machines are reliable and not likely to crash. “They’ve been proven election after election,” David Bear said. “There has never been a security issue with touch-screens.”
By far the most publicized issue with the machines is their failure to produce an individual record of a ballot for the voter.
Twenty-six states have passed laws requiring a paper record, according to TrueVoteMD, a nonprofit devoted to the issue.
Maryland’s Diebold machines provide paper records for audits by officials, but individual voters don’t get a paper copy of their vote before their ballot is cast, Bear said. Although Diebold makes machines with voter-verified paper records, Maryland has not bought them because state law doesn’t require them, he said.
Maryland advocates say it is imperative to print a separate paper copy so voters can determine whether their vote was recorded correctly and allow for a recount.
The advocates, including Senate Minority Whip Andrew Harris, R-Baltimore County, and Takoma Park Councilman Marc Elrich, have a lawsuit pending against State Elections Administrator Linda Lamone, which says Lamone stuck with the Diebold machines despite knowing of problems with their security and reliability.
Independent U.S. Senate candidate Kevin Zeese, who often works with TrueVoteMD, is making voter verification a campaign issue by sending a letter to his opponents in the race.
“In the last two days, seismic changes have occurred that make the case opposing paper records untenable,” Zeese said.
In addition to the commission report, one of Lamone’s allies against voter verified paper trails, Georgia’s secretary of state Cathy Cox, said Tuesday she had changed her mind.
Maryland and Georgia were among the first states to adopt electronic voting technology and Cox and Lamone traditionally shared the same dislike for paper records, said Linda Schade, TrueVoteMD executive director and another plaintiff in the lawsuit against Lamone.
Also Tuesday, a spokesman for Maryland Gov. Robert Ehrlich told the Associated Press that the governor was “receptive” to the idea of a paper trail, a comment that advocates pounced on with glee.
“Linda Lamone has to be sweating today,” Schade said. “I think that more evidence is coming and there are clear trends in public opinion moving towards voter verification. I think that Administrator Lamone will feel the pressure of the voting community.”
The State Board of Elections doesn’t know where public opinion lies on voter verification, said Ross Goldstein, deputy state administrator.
The board has commissioned two studies with the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the University of Maryland, College Park, to gauge public opinion and to study alternative ways to verify votes, including audio and video verification rather than paper copies, Goldstein said.
If a voter-verified paper trail were to be approved, all sides agree, Maryland could buy new machines or retrofit its existing 16,000 Diebold machines with printers.