ANNAPOLIS – State elections officials said Thursday that Maryland’s much criticized electronic voting system worked flawlessly in November’s General Election and see no need for paper trails to verify election results.
But skeptical legislators were not so sure, and made it clear the push for paper trails would once again be a contentious issue in the General Assembly.
“The performance of the machines in the primary and General Election were like night and day,” said Linda Lamone, administrator for the Maryland Board of Elections, at a briefing for a committee of the House of Delegates.
She was referring to widespread malfunctions which caused long lines and delays at hundreds of polling places in the Washington suburbs. While Lamone apologized for the performance in the primary, she said the fault was not with the voting system.
“The problems that happened with e-poll books were with e-poll books and not with the voting system,” she said. “Having said that, they were unacceptable.”
But her explanation did not end there. She said that the state board of elections had not had sufficient time to train its staff before the election.
“We cannot simply train our judges in June or July and hope that they can retain all the complex material,” she said “We need time to implement things, you just cannot spring last minute changes.”
But delegates were not completely sold on the safety of the electronic system and suggested a paper trail among other alternatives as an audit system.
“There were a number of close races and no truly auditable way to count votes” said Delegate Craig Rice, D-Montgomery County. “I won by 152 votes, we need to be able to count the votes, the source code could be flawed.”
Lamone said that since its implementation in 2002, the electronic system has worked well and has reduced the number of voting errors. She also said that the system enabled blind voters to vote using secret ballots and provided greater flexibility by allowing the implementation of early voting.
Michael Shamos, a professor in computer science and the official examiner of electronic voting systems in Pennsylvania, accompanied Lamone to support her claim that the voting system is worth the $42 million already invested in it.
“There is nothing wrong with Maryland’s voting system,” he said. “The voters don’t trust it because they have been told not to trust it, not because of negative experience.”
Both Lamone and Shamos denounced paper trails as insecure. Shamos said that no one has ever solved the mystery of voter ballot fraud.
“Simply adding paper does not ensure security,” Lamone said.
Delegate Kumar Barve, D-Montgomery County, agreed that most voting systems have some type of flaw. This, he said, is exactly the reason the current system needs an audit counterpart.
“All things of accounting fail, but in different ways, errors are completely different but they are ultimately checks and balances,” he said.
Barve said he supports optical scanners as a voting system, but not the electronic system because it cannot conduct an electronic audit, he said.
Shamos opposed optical scanners as well, saying they were as susceptible to fraud as paper trails.
“If there was a recount, how do we know that all the ones cast are the original ones?” he said. “(Electronic voting systems) are the best bet for counting ballots. Throwing them away when we already have them seems crazy.”
It was clear from their questioning, however, that delegates want to see some type of audit system in place. “There is certainly some disconnect between what is at the core (of the voting system) and that will make a difference between where Maryland goes with voting systems,” Rice said.