ANNAPOLIS – State lawmakers followed Maryland Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.’s lead Thursday in expressing concerns about the reliability of the state’s electronic voting machines.
“I just want to get through the 2006 election,” said Sen. James Brochin, D-Baltimore County, in a hearing on a bill to require the state’s voting apparatus to produce paper records of ballots. “I worry about this catastrophe in 2006.”
Ehrlich wrote to the state elections board Wednesday that he is no longer confident the state could carry out fair and accurate elections this year because of concerns about voting machines and a new early voting law.
Two weeks ago, the House Ways and Means Committee discussed potential security problems with the current electronic voting system machines, made by Diebold Inc., as State Board of Elections Administrator Linda Lamone defended the system, saying requiring paper ballots would be cost prohibitive and impossible in such a short time.
Lamone repeated those concerns Thursday before the Senate Education, Health, and Environment sub-committee, and dismissed any criticism brought forth by advocates of paper trail ballots.
“I continue to believe that we don’t need it and I continue to believe that we don’t have the money for it,” she said. “It’s just not workable.”
Linda Schade continued to battle on behalf of paper-producing election machines, producing a chart documenting problems discovered in the 2004 election in Baltimore.
Schade, co-founder of TrueVoteMD, an advocacy group for paper ballots, received the documents as part of litigation against Lamone.
The Senate also heard from a researcher, who concluded in an earlier study that changes to the voting machines by the September elections would be impossible. Don Norris, a University of Maryland, Baltimore County public policy professor, told senators Thursday that half his survey’s 800 polling subjects believed the Maryland voting system “can be corrupted.”
“Voters need to find confidence in the system,” said Senate committee Chairwoman Paula Hollinger, D-Baltimore County. “There are people who don’t have the confidence. It’s up to us to try and find a way to give this state confidence.”
As in the past, Lamone cited cost and time as the two main factors in why a change cannot be made by September. She said it would cost $55 million to install a new system. TrueVoteMD estimated machines at $5,000 and the total cost at $24 million. Diebold has also said optical scanners are about $5,000.
Those pushing for new voting machines prefer optical scanners, which they argue would be a cheaper alternative to purchasing printers to add onto the current touch-screen machines.
“You are getting so much misinformation from people,” Lamone told Brochin.
Delegate Elizabeth Bobo, D-Howard, said Thursday that a one-year lease of optical scanners — until a final resolution is found — would cost the state $6 million, based on the last time Montgomery County used optimal scanners in 2002.
“Everyone who is knowledgeable on this issue agrees that they are more secure than any other machine,” Bobo said.
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.
Following a closed session Thursday with members of the House sub-committee and representatives of Diebold, Sen. Jean B. Cryor, R-Montgomery, said time constraints will prevent paper trails by September.
“I think one thing is very clear though — there will be no paper trail this year,” she said.
Mark Radke, director of Diebold Election Systems, defended the machines and said Maryland is the most accurate voting state in the country, and that voting error decreased 40 percent from 2000 to 2004.
Radke said implementing a new system would be feasible by 2008.
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 mandated paper ballots, according to VerifiedVoting.com.
Capital News Service reporter Connor Adams Sheets contributed to this report.