ANNAPOLIS – The State Board of Elections vowed Tuesday to move forward with fixes to Maryland’s troubled electronic voting system, despite Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich’s advocacy of a move to paper ballots before the Nov. 7 general election.
“We will work around the clock to get it right,” said state election board chairman Gilles W. Burger, echoing remarks made by state election administrator Linda H. Lamone at the Sept. 20 Board of Public Works meeting.
At a two-hour meeting with representatives from Diebold Election Systems Inc., the company that developed Maryland’s voting system, the board virtually ignored the governor’s public call for a paper system and instead focused on technical support, election judge training and mechanical and software failures.
Diebold representatives said they were already on their way to correcting the glitches that resulted in long lines and voter confusion during the Sept. 12 primary election, including a tic that caused electronic polling books to reboot automatically after checking in about 40 voters.
Burger did suggest that polling places stock an “overabundance of provisional ballots” during the general election. But that was as close as the discussion came to a move toward a paper-based voting or voter check-in system.
Burger said the state board was never formally approached by Ehrlich about moving to paper ballots for the general election.
But a spokesman for the governor said Ehrlich expressed his opinion publicly at last week’s Board of Public Works meeting and has reiterated that stance every time he appears in public.
“His position for the better part of a year remains that he does not have confidence in Maryland’s overall reliance on electronic voting,” said Henry P. Fawell, Ehrlich’s press secretary.
Fawell said Ehrlich will continue to encourage voters to use absentee ballots “as a convenient option to avoid long lines at the polls and questionable voting technology.”
After the meeting, Burger said the board was focused on correcting problems encountered during the primary, and not on overhauling the entire state voting process before Nov. 7. “We just can’t change our system,” he said. “We can’t take any more stress of changes.”
He did, however, criticize the technical support and training provided by Diebold leading up to and on the day of the primary.
“The State of Maryland has paid Diebold a lot of money over the past four years,” said Burger, who said he actually watched an electronic polling book machine freeze when he went to check in at the polls. “The allocation of those resources, how it is being used and how they are being served is of great interest to the taxpayers. I think that we need to see some better support, better training.”
Diebold Election Systems officials assured the board their system will be fixed in time for the Nov. 7 general election. “We feel that we had, in many respects, a very excellent election,” said vice president Mike Lindross, citing successful vote tabulation and parallel monitoring of the voting process. He said that after learning of the primary day e-poll glitch, “We jumped on it, we found it, we fixed it.”
Several county election board heads at the meeting defended the work done by Diebold in the primary. Barbara L. Fisher, elections director for Anne Arundel County, said the company’s technicians “made a very real effort to give us the support that we requested.”
“We’re extremely grateful that they were there,” she said.
Patricia L. Davis, elections director for Talbot County, said the technical errors were “slight” and “Diebold gave 100 percent.” She shifted some responsibility for the primary chaos to the public.
“The polling books are the easiest part. Voters are the rudest part,” Davis said, receiving a round of applause from a few fellow elections directors. She called on voters to be patient with problems or lines encountered at the polls. “A lot of it has to go back to the voter,” she said.