Cumberland Times-News

Local News

March 7, 2013

Outdated machines won’t be replaced before 2014 election

ANNAPOLIS — When the gubernatorial election rolls around next year, most of Maryland’s touch-screen voting machines will be past their prime.

The state is already facing a shortage of the 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.

“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.

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the co-director of Save Our Votes, told senators at the hearing that there was no legitimate excuse for Maryland using outdated voting machines.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.

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