ANNAPOLIS – Officials of the company that made Maryland’s problem-plagued voting system promised legislators Wednesday that all 5,500 of the company’s electronic poll books will be fixed by Oct. 16, in a move to assure state officials that its system will be fully functional in time for Election Day.
“All units will be touched,” said Ross Underwood, general manager of the ExpressPoll division of Ohio-based Diebold Election Systems, Inc., which was paid about $18.4 million for the new computerized voter check-in system known as an “e-poll book.”
The company’s vice president, Mike Lindross, reiterated Diebold’s commitment to Maryland and said that his company was “on target” with a timetable for repairs and tests set by state elections administrator Linda H. Lamone.
“We want this fall election to be the best election that Maryland has had,” Lindross said. “We want to assist in any way that we can.”
Members of the Senate Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee had few questions for the Diebold representatives, who spoke at the end of a two-and-a-half-hour meeting to review problems during the Sept. 12 primary.
Sen. Paula C. Hollinger, D-Baltimore County, the committee chair, set the tone for the hearing early, saying its purpose was “to move forward” and restore voter confidence to ensure high turnout for the Nov. 7 general election.
“This is not going to be a blame game,” she said to the committee. “And my gavel does work, still.”
Lamone and State Board of Elections Chairman Gilles W. Burger spoke at the start of the meeting and noted critical problem areas with the primary election. While acknowledging several mistakes and technical glitches that disrupted voting on Sept. 12, Burger promised the committee a “safe, fair, free election on Nov. 7.”
Added Lamone, “We’re not going to use the e-poll books unless Diebold is able to demonstrate to me that they’re in tip-top shape.”
To that end she said the company would conduct a daylong test of the e-poll books Oct. 3, simulating a full day of voting for three counties. She noted the test would be additionally vetted by an independent quality assurance team.
When election judge training on the Diebold e-poll book came up, committee member Janet Greenip, R-Anne Arundel, pressed for details about specific training requirements in Diebold’s contract.
“Could we possibly void the contract… because they didn’t even have the machines to train people on?” she asked Lamone, who referred her to the attorney general’s office for the answer.
The committee also heard testimony from election directors from Baltimore City and Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Montgomery and Prince George’s counties, who detailed individual “action plans” for correcting issues that complicated the primary election. Several mentioned the shortage of election judges at polling places as a problem more crippling than the unfamiliar technology.
“The day before the election we had approximately 140 vacancies,” said Barbara L. Fisher, election director for Anne Arundel County. “For every vacancy that we did fill, a judge would drop out.”
Fisher said her board had aggressively recruited high school and college students to serve as election judges, but that by Sept. 12 her recruitment resources were exhausted.
“We need to add incentives in light of the $110 salary for a 15-hour, complex work day,” she said.
Montgomery County Board of Elections secretary Samuel L. Statland did a bit more math in his assessment, basing his example on an election judge who worked until 3:43 a.m. on Sept. 13. “In effect that person put in a 21-hour day, for $150,” he said. “Seven bucks an hour. Long day. No overtime.”