WASHINGTON – In the General Assembly’s debate about the security of the state’s voting machines, some companies and technologies are being left out.
Lawmakers in favor of requiring the state’s voting machines to produce a paper record of ballots have contacted one company — Nebraska-based Election Systems and Software — to determine if its optical-scan equipment could be ready in time for the September primary elections. ESS says it can.
But two leading vendors of the same equipment — Sequoia Voting Systems and Hart Interactive — haven’t been heard from in the debate.
A week after Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. sent a letter to the state Board of Elections declaring he has lost confidence in the state’s voting machines, both legislative branches continue to try to draft legislation to require paper records during elections. Maryland’s current, Diebold-brand, touch-screen, voting machines do not provide paper records.
With a paper-auditable machine, a printer attached to the voting machine produces a receipt showing the candidates selected that voters can see behind a piece of glass. That receipt can then be dropped into a lockbox and saved for up to a year. Twenty-seven states currently hold elections with paper records.
Better than paper, said Bev Harris, author of “Black Box Voting: Ballot Tampering in the 21st Century,” are machines that produce digital photographic ballot records, because they save money during any recount.
Hart Intercivic of Texas, and Sequoia Voting Systems of Colorado, both offer optical-scan machines. Hart’s run about $4,500 each and take digital photographs of ballots. Sequoia machines cost $5,250.
The ES&S machines investigated by the legislature are “in that (price range),” according to Ken Fields, a company spokesman. ES&S equipment is used in 46 states, so the company is experienced in meeting government needs, he said.
The typical Hart Intercivic installation process, from placing the order to “up and running,” typically takes 90 days but would likely take longer for an entire state, a spokesman said.
A representative for Sequoia declined to give a “yes or no answer” on being ready by the coming elections but said “you don’t just drop the (elections) system in the state of Maryland.”
Also under discussion in the General Assembly is Howard County Democratic Delegate Elizabeth Bobo’s proposal to spend $6 million on a one-year lease of optical scan machines as a short-term solution to replace the controversial Diebold machines.
Linda Lamone, state Board of Elections administrator, has defended the Diebold machines and called replacements costly and unable to be installed by September.
Meanwhile, House Ways and Means Committee Chairwoman Sheila Hixson, D-Montgomery, has sponsored the measure to require paper trails.
An aide to that committee said she had not contacted any vendor besides ES&S, and that the committee has no plans to. The committee needed just ballpark figures to work with in assessing the legislation. Any change in voting apparatus would be handled by the state Board of Elections and subject to the state bid process, she said.
“We’re trying to get numbers, hard numbers,” the aide said.
Bobo, who said she was open to other vendors, said leasing Diebold optical-scanners was not considered because of the alleged security concerns and because a recent state-commissioned study was too narrow to include the necessary Diebold machines.
ES&S machines, however, are not necessarily more secure than Diebold, but less is known about the company, Harris said.
“They’ve just been more secretive about it,” Harris said.
Linda Schade, executive director of the paper-trail advocacy group TrueVoteMD and a leading voice against Diebold, said this week that she is only beginning to learn about ES&S.