Maryland gets crabby over voting tech

Governor, others denounce state's electronic systems

Some Maryland voters might feel that the state's recently adopted electronic voting systems have bitten them like one of the state's signature crabs chomping on a wader.

Problems with the systems in 2004 and again in September's primary election prompted Gov. Robert Ehrlich (R) to call on voters to consider using absentee ballots rather than the state's AccuVote-TS Model ES-2000. (State law allows almost any voter to vote absentee.) The direct-recording electronic voting systems are made by Diebold Election Systems Inc. of North Canton, Ohio.

But state voting officials point to progressive upgrades in system security and election procedures designed to safeguard voting machines and the associated poll books.

Still, Ehrlich, who is running for re-election, last week enlisted the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People as an ally.

'The NAACP and I share strong concerns about Maryland's current election system, including the reliability of electronic poll books, the dependability of electronic voting machines and the training and supply of election judges,' he said in a statement.

Poll books are electronic systems that work together with the voting machines to check that incoming voters are registered. The electronic poll books also provide voters with encoded voter access cards that prompt the voting machines to furnish the correct ballot for each voter.

After the troubled 2004 election, Maryland's election board adopted several reforms, including logic and accuracy testing of the software. The board mandated strict physical control of the voting machines as well as special tamper-resistant tape and background checks for election workers.

But the September primary featured widely reported problems, especially in populous Montgomery County, a Washington suburb. An election worker failed to deliver the necessary voter access cards to some of the polling stations, which delayed voting.
The September election proceeded smoothly in many other areas across the state.

Ross Goldstein, Maryland's deputy administrator of the election board, said his agency had focused on security issues and continually improved them, with Diebold's help.

'In Montgomery County, they forgot to send out the voter access cards. That's like sending out paper ballots without pencils,' Goldstein said, noting that that kind of human error isn't a technical problem. 'I'm sure that is a mistake that is not going to happen again.'

Goldstein said the Diebold systems had dramatically improved the voter's ability to use voting systems easily, and for the first time allowed blind voters to cast their ballots in secret without assistance.

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