By Ilana Kowarski
The state is already facing a shortage of voting machines, with only four jurisdictions in the last presidential election providing enough to meet state regulations.
In 2014, voting machines in 23 of the state’s 24 jurisdictions will be at least 10 years old, reaching the limit of the manufacturer’s guarantee. Roughly a third of these machines will have exceeded their useful life as determined by the manufacturer.
State voters will have to wait three years before they can use upgraded voting machines with a verifiable paper trail, a delay which is angering election reformers.
Funding comes too little, too late
“If we had the money put into the 2013 budget, we’d have had a shot,” said Linda Lamone, administrator of the State Board of Elections, during her testimony Friday before the Senate Health and Human Services Subcommittee.
The governor recently set aside $1.2 million in the fiscal 2014 budget, which starts July 1, to plan the overhaul of the state voting system. But Lamone said it was too little, too late to ensure a transition to state-of-the-art technology by the next election — the 2014 primary on June 24.
She said that the board of elections needed more time to select a vendor for voting technology, and that it would be impossible to recruit a bidder and purchase machines before the next election.
She expects the new voting system will be completely operational by 2016, just in time for the presidential contest.
Funds were originally provided for this transition in the 2009 and 2010 budgets, but most of that money was axed during the recession.
Non-profit says outdated voting machines are unacceptable
Rebecca Wilson, the co-director of Save Our Votes, told senators at the hearing that there was no legitimate excuse for Maryland using outdated voting machines.
State regulations mandate that each precinct provide at least one touchscreen machine for every 200 registered voters. Twenty of the state’s 24 jurisdictions failed to meet this standard during the last presidential election.
Wilson, who serves as an election worker in Prince George’s County, urged senators to accelerate an overhaul of the state election system. She saw voting machines breaking down on Election Day in 2010 and 2012, she said.
“We don’t have enough equipment, and some of it is broken down,” Wilson said. “Our population is growing, and we’re going to put more strain on the system by taking machines out of the precincts for early voting.”
Sen. Roger Manno, D-Montgomery, said that he sympathized with Wilson’s argument, but he and his fellow senators were not authorized to increase the governor’s budget.
Manno lamented that he could not marshal support for additional revenue to upgrade the voting system. He also complained about the two hour wait times at the Leisure World polling station in his district, which he described as “frustrating and heartbreaking.”
Manno told Lamone that the Election Day delays needed to be remedied, whatever the cost of the fix. He also said he thought that it was risky to have a test run of a new voting system during a presidential election
“I don’t think there’s anyone here who won’t spend the money necessary to make sure our folks can vote,” he said.
Fewer machines needed in gubernatorial elections
Sen. James Robey, the subcommittee chair, pointedly asked Lamone if the Election Day delays were due to not having enough machines.
Voters experienced delays because busloads of people came to some polling stations early in the morning, and election workers had difficulty catching up, Lamone said.
Lamone assured senators that she “did not want to disenfranchise people,” but she said that it would be extremely expensive to purchase additional voting machines before the 2014 election.
And, she said, the state would not need as many machines in the gubernatorial election as it does in a presidential.
Elections administrator defends voting accuracy with aging machines
Ross Goldstein, the election board’s deputy administrator, said in a subsequent interview that Marylanders should not worry about the accuracy of election results in 2014. But he acknowledged that voting machine malfunctions had happened in the past and that they would likely happen again in the next election, due to the “wear and tear” on voting equipment.
Goldstein said that voting machine malfunctions during state elections were rare, occurring in roughly 1% of the state’s machines, and he asserted that these malfunctions never resulted in vote miscounts.
“You certainly don’t want a machine malfunction to happen on Election Day, but the most important thing is that votes are counted accurately, and I think we can continue to say that about the state’s election system,” Goldstein said.
But voting technology experts from RTI International research institute disagreed. Three years ago, they reported to the Department of of Legislative Services that Maryland needed to replace its voting equipment before it became out of date.
“Continuing to use the system beyond 2012 comes with increased risk of equipment malfunctioning,” the experts wrote. “The nature and frequency of equipment failure beyond the manufacturer’s life expectancy cannot be predicted.”