LINTHICUM – Officials from Diebold Elections Systems, Inc. conducted a day-long test of their troubled electronic voting system Tuesday, aiming to give Maryland voters confidence that the system will function without a hitch in the Nov. 7 general election.
The test election simulated the check-in, voting and tabulation process at four Maryland precincts, with Diebold technicians and election directors from around the state acting as election judges and voters. Held at a conference room in the BWI Airport Marriott, the test run was open to the public but had attracted relatively few people by midday.
Local election directors praised the demonstration, saying both the touch-screen voting machines and the electronic poll books worked smoothly. But state election officials said they would withhold judgment on the ExpressPoll check-in machines until the simulation was reviewed by an independent quality assurance team.
“I’m not making a final decision until [Wednesday],” said state elections administrator Linda H. Lamone.
Tom Feehan, Maryland project manager for Diebold, said the company had identified three major problem areas after the Sept. 12 primary: a programming glitch that caused the e-poll books to reboot after checking in about 45 voters; an occasional loss of synchronization among the e-poll books that could allow multiple check-ins by the same voter; and random difficulties inserting voter access cards into the machines. He said technicians had corrected those problems and the day-long test would prove to voters that the system works.
“We intend to stress these machines as much or more than they would be stressed on a normal voting day,” Feehan said.
Ross K. Goldstein, the state’s deputy administrator of elections, said that by 6 p.m. Tuesday the Diebold system had tabulated 5,736 votes from e-poll books taken from precincts in Baltimore City and Wicomico, Montgomery and Carroll counties. “This is a pretty good representation for these polling places,” he said.
Of the votes cast, only nine experienced errors, including a handful of user errors, a disconnected printer cable and several Windows error messages with walk-through instructions for the fixes, Goldstein said.
He said none of the errors matched those encountered during the primary election.
“The data show that the system counts accurately,” said Feehan. He said Diebold paid for the test-run and would also begin re-training election judges on the system later this week.
Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, D-Md., attended the simulation and cast his own faux-vote, saying he wanted all Maryland voters to feel “confident that they will be able to vote and their vote will be counted.”
“We have to keep our eyes on the prize. The prize is maintaining a democracy,” he said. “The main thing is I want them to participate.”
Mark Radke, director of marketing for Diebold, said electronic voting systems have increased accessibility for blind and visually impaired voters, helped verify voter intent and reduced over-voting (choosing too many candidates on a ballot) and under-voting (choosing too few candidates).
“It’s proved to reduce voter error significantly,” he said, pointing to a nine-fold reduction in voter error from 2000 to 2002 in Georgia, where his company also supplies electronic voting machines. Radke said he was “very confident” in the reliability of Maryland’s system heading into the general election. “I think today is a very good indication of that,” he said.