Maryland Funds New Voting System

April 5, 2008

By SaveOurVotes.org      Yesterday the Maryland General Assembly approved the Fiscal Year 2009 budget, including funding to move Maryland by 2010 to a less expensive, recountable voting system based on optically scanned paper ballots. This highly popular switch, favored by nearly two thirds of voters statewide, was enacted last year in matching bills sponsored by Sen. Edward Kasemeyer (D - Baltimore and Howard Counties) and Del. Sheila Hixson (D - Montgomery County) and passed unanimously by both chambers of the General Assembly, contingent on funding in this year’s budget.

“We are pleased that our lawmakers have acted wisely to protect our elections as well as our pocketbooks,” said Rebecca Wilson, co-director of SAVE our Votes, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization working for Secure, Accessible, Verifiable Elections for Maryland . “The touch-screen voting system has raised our election costs to nearly ten times what they were previously, while providing no way to independently verify that our votes are counted correctly.”

Wilson has compiled budget data from Maryland ’s Department of Legislative Services documenting the exorbitant costs of electronic voting. The study, which may be downloaded from the group’s website and was featured Friday in an article in Wired, shows that county voting system costs have soared, too, even with the state picking up half the tab of buying and operating the electronic machines.

The new system will consist of one vote-counting optical scanner in each precinct into which voters will insert their paper ballots, marked either by hand or by using a touch-screen interface that will assist voters with disabilities or language barriers in marking a paper ballot. These two machines will replace an average of about ten of the touch-screen machines Maryland currently uses. This 80% reduction in voting equipment is expected to save taxpayers about $6 million per year in operating expenses. In addition, the number of voters that can vote simultaneously is not limited to the number of voting machines, since voters can mark paper ballots anywhere there is a private space to vote. This ability to inexpensively expand the number of voting stations during peak voting hours is expected to reduce the long lines many voters have encountered with the touch-screen system.

Maryland joins New Mexico, California, Florida, Ohio, and, most recently, Iowa in the move away from Direct-Recording Electronic (DRE) voting machines as their security risks have been thoroughly documented in numerous recent studies.

“We have heard that America spent millions of dollars developing pens that can write in outer space, while the Russians simply brought pencils,” said Robert Ferraro, co-director of SAVE our Votes. “Sometimes the most high-tech solution is not necessarily the one that makes the best sense.”