By Glynis Kazanjian
Gov. Martin O’Malley’s bill to expand voting debuted in Annapolis Thursday, calling for more early voting days, same day voter registration and an opportunity for all Marylanders to obtain absentee ballots online.
But critics, including members of the governor’s own party, sounded off about the potential for voter fraud, some even suggesting that certain parts of the bill be delayed until security could be improved.
Security concerns raised
House Bill 224 – Improving Access to Voting – could make personal information input by the voter vulnerable to internet hacking without new security provisions in place, according to Rebecca Wilson of Save our Votes, a voter advocacy group.
And, the bill would also waive a requirement for a new voter -- who registers and votes on the same day -- to cast a provisional ballot, a measure which could give election officials time to authenticate the person’s eligibility.
“Since last August, the State Board of Elections has known about a computer security concern,” Wilson said. “The system is still wide open and now we are looking to expand this to all voters in the state. A hacker could target 75% of voters who don’t vote in an election. There would be no way that the board of elections would be able to distinguish that from a legitimate vote.”
Wilson suggested waiting to implement certain measures of the bill until the problem is fixed. She also testified that the bill would allow the state to bypass a federal voting system certification requirement because, she said, no federal standards have been set for that system.
After hearing Wilson and others testify, Del. Talmadge Branch, D-Baltimore City questioned state officials about proceeding in areas where there were security concerns.
”Should we be moving forward even though you’re saying there is a problem?” Branch asked.
“Yes,” State Election Board spokesman Ross Goldstein said. “There is a good plan in place to address it.”
Same-day voter registration would rely on voters providing true information
Del. Don Dwyer, R-Anne Arundel County, questioned state elections officials about safety nets for same day voter registration, asking if there were any identifiers in the Motor Vehicle Association (MVA) database that would weed out ineligible voters.
Goldstein said there weren’t any, and like other registration systems currently used in the state, it was up to the individual to tell the truth about his or her eligibility by signing an oath that would result in perjury -- a federal offense -- if they lied.
Opponents were quick to point out that the state had little to history of prosecuting voting perjury cases, although election officials didn’t accept these assertions.
House Ways and Means Vice Chairman Frank Turner, D-Howard County, echoed his colleagues’ concerns.
“Knowing that there might be a flawed security issue with the Internet electronic voting –are you just as adamant [going forward] this year rather than correcting the flaw?” he asked.
Bill expands early voting from six to eight days with more hours, locations
O’Malley’s bill would expand the number of early voting days from six to eight, and operating hours would also expand. Constituents would have access to 59 early voting centers compared to 48 now available.
This would increase costs by $150,700 at the state level and $1.2 million at the local level in 2014, according to an analysis prepared by the Department of Legislative Services.
Legislative staff for the governor touted statistics that showed states with same day voter registration averaging 10% to 17% higher voter turnout than states without it. Groups and individuals with disabilities also testified that the online ballot marking tool -- which would allow them to access absentee ballots online -- combined with the early voting expansion would help make voting easier and more convenient for them.
Several Republicans at the hearing complained that while the governor’s bill moves to expand multiple opportunities for citizens to vote, Democratic-sponsored referendum bills circulating this session seek to restrict voting.