ANNAPOLIS – Hours after a new study found it would be nearly impossible to implement paper-trail voting machines by the September elections, Maryland’s chief elections administrator defended the current machines as a matter of financial necessity.
State Elections Administrator Linda Lamone on Wednesday told the House of Delegates Ways and Means Committee, which is considering legislation to mandate the election machines produce paper records, that a change would cause both physical and financial burdens to the state.
“You will put your election in jeopardy,” Lamone said. “You just don’t hold an election like you hold a party. It’s as simple as that.”
New machines require additional training and installation and cannot be done quickly, and will cost the state “$90 million of contractual obligations,” Lamone said. The current machines cost about $1 million a year to maintain and new machines will cost an estimated $6,500 each, according to the state budget office.
Lamone said the current machines, which cost $56 million and are produced by Diebold Inc., count votes accurately and fairly and that there has been no evidence of tampering since the state began using them in 2002.
However, Delegate Elizabeth Bobo, D-Howard, a co-sponsor of the bill, said that optical scanners used for absentee ballots, could save half the estimated $55 million cost of retrofitting the current machines.
Delegate Sheila Hixson, D-Montgomery, the bill’s sponsor and a former foe of such legislation, said the bill will move to subcommittee. She said that optical scanners should not be difficult to ready by September because they are in use for absentee ballots.
“Something was going to happen and we’re not stopping,” she said.
Lamone’s testimony contradicted that of more than 20 individuals who spoke in favor of instituting paper-trail machines, including some who were blind and handicapped.
Avi Rubin, a computer science professor at Johns Hopkins University, specializes in computer security and has spent the last several years researching electronic voting. He supported the paper trail initiative and said entirely secure electronic voting does not yet exist.
“We need to design our lives on the technology that we have,” he said. “You shouldn’t need to have a Ph.D. to have to understand how to vote.”
Earlier in the day, the results of a recent voter-verification study performed by the University of Maryland, Baltimore County found new machines could not be implemented in time for new elections. However, the four machines tested were prototypes, are not commercially available and are not used in the country.
“Each of the systems may have something to offer but only if they are fully developed and fully integrated and properly implemented,” said Donald Norris, who did not recommend any of the machines.
Members of TrueVoteMD, an activist group for paper trail voting in Maryland, disagreed with the study because it was both commissioned by the state, which chose the machines to be studied, and because the Diebold machine tested is not used anywhere. They allege that the study evaluated how to retrofit the current machines instead of looking for a future solution. TrueVoteMD is pushing for optical scan machines, and they estimated the cost at $24 million.
With a paper-auditable machine, a vote is cast in one of the state’s electronic devices, but a paper record is kept in the event of a recount or allegations of impropriety. After a ballot is cast electronically, a printer attached to the voting machine produces a receipt with the candidates selected. Voters could see the paper behind a piece of glass and, after verification, the paper would be dropped into a lockbox and saved for up to a year.
A survey component of the UMBC study of 800 registered voters found there is not “widespread concern” to implement paper-trail voting. Norris said he had not yet analyzed the results.
Hixson said the committee felt the studies were not long or in depth, but said problems were the fault of the corporations and not the researchers.
When Delegate D. Page Elmore, R-Wicomico, was told Wednesday that the current machines solve disputes by checking the computer again, he said “that’s not a recount.”
Diebold does make machines that produce paper ballots, but because state law does not require such records, they were never purchased.
Twenty-seven states have signed into law the requirement of paper ballots, according to VerifiedVoting.com.