By Glynis Kazanjian
A new Maryland law allowing voting by mail with a ballot downloaded online has some voter advocacy groups alarmed that adequate security measures will not be in place for the 2014 elections.
Election Day voter registration and the future of online voting were also among the hot button issues debated at a forum this week, hosted by the Maryland League of Women Voters in Annapolis.
The bill, Election Law - Improving Access to Voting, extends the right to all Maryland absentee voters to download and mark their ballots online. Ballots would then be mailed in to local election boards rather than tallied online. Previously only overseas voters and military personnel were allowed by law to obtain and mark ballots on the Internet.
Under Maryland’s no-excuse absentee voting law, any Maryland voter is allowed to receive an absentee ballot without having to provide a reason for being absent on Election Day.
Voting by mail will bring verification challenges
Cyber-security hawks like Rebecca Wilson of SAVE our Votes said Maryland has no process for examining voter’s handwritten signatures that are required for all the new potential mailed in absentee ballots.
“Maryland is moving increasingly to vote by mail,” Wilson said. “How does the [election official] know the person on the computer is the real voter?”
Wilson cited four western states that either vote entirely by mail -- Washington and Oregon – or by a large percentage - California and Colorado.
“They do it a little differently than we do it in Maryland,” Wilson said . “They examine the handwritten signature on every ballot they receive and compare it to records of that voter’s signature to make sure the person who mailed in the ballot is the voter. They know that authenticating the voter on the front end is not as effective as authenticating the ballots that are returned by those voters.”
Wilson cited a Florida voter fraud case where absentee ballots were requested online and mailed to the voter. It was later determined by the FBI, Wilson said, that a lot of requests were coming from the same IP address. “None of those voters had requested ballots,” she said.
Wilson acknowledged that some new safeguards – such as including the last four numbers of a voter’s social security number and the date a driver’s license was issued – were added through legislative efforts this year. But she says, it is still unknown how well the security will work considering how easy it is to obtain a person's driver's license number and other personal information off the Internet.
Updated voting technology important
Del. Jon Cardin, chairman of House election law subcommittee, and a panelist at the forum, said election officials are required to physically compare the ballot completed on the computer to the final mailed-in ballot. “Will they do it?” Cardin asked. “We don’t know, but they are required to.” Democrat Cardin is running for attorney general in 2014.
“Creating the most open, fair, free, transparent, safe and convenient elections as possible, is what all eligible voters deserve”, Cardin said. “We live in a rapidly changing world. We need somebody who is going to think about staying two steps ahead of the issues with the law . . . [while] using technology to our advantage because it is not going away.”
Cardin’s election pitch probably wasn’t missed on the audience, but his words encompassed the group’s sentiments as they struggled to find a way to bring 21st Century technology into voting.
Same-day voter registration could boost turnout, expert argues
The General Assembly also approved legislation that will allow voters in 2016 to register and vote during early voting, and it looks likely that legislation to allow voter registration on Election Day will be pushed for the 2014 legislative session.
Adam Lioz, a panelist from Demos, a national public policy organization, pitched the importance of same day voter registration on Election Day.
“Of states that do have same day voter registration, turnout is 10 percentage points higher,” Lioz said. “Four of the top five states for voter turnout for [the] 2012 [Presidential election] were same-day voter registration states. Of course it's critical that we have secure elections we can all be confident in, but there are lots of ways to protect our vote that do not put up barriers to eligible people exercising their freedom to vote.”
Susan Cochran, president of the Maryland League of Women Voters (LWV), said the organization supports same day voter registration and other technological advances in voting, including voting online, but with security safeguards in place.
Same-day voter registration on Election Day would not become effective until the 2016 Presidential election if it becomes law. Maryland voters would first have to approve the measure with a constitutional amendment in the 2014 elections.
Elections officials were invited to sit on the panel, but declined, according to Cochran.