Maryland Voting Systems

Isaac Opalinsky diopey at
Wed, 28 Mar 2001 04:18:07

This message is in reply to Andrew Cameron's question about Maryland's Voting Systems Procurement Manual.

I had a long conversation with Joe Torre, who is in charge of certifying voting systems for use in Maryland, and who also runs the voter education program and wrote the manual in question. The most recent version was published in August of 2000, and it outlines the voting systems in use in Maryland, the systems that are certified for use (which would exclude the lever machines used in PG, Allegany, and Dorchester Counties), and provides the analytical framework for soliciting offers and drafting RFP's for voting systems.

Incidentally, the manual has a section on punchcard systems, which I would like to quote:

"Most Votomatic voting systems require that the voting positions on the cards be pre-scored, for ease of punching and to ensure proper alignment. If these pre-scored locations are not punched out completely, the punched-out piece, called 'chad', could get pressed back into the whole during vote counting, causing that vote to be missed. A similar miscount can olccur if a piece of a chad from one location is accidentally pressed into the hole of another locaion. This problem can occur during the original counting process or during a recount. If it occurs in one but not the other, then the total vote count will disagree."

Keep in mind that this manual was written in August of 2000. No counties in Maryland use the Votomatic system, but only a Datavote system, which does not have prescored holes. The manual continues, "Since the Datavote system does not use a pre-scored card, it does not suffer the 'floating chad' problem of the Votomatic system."

But I digress. The manual is not available on-line, but you could probably obtain a copy through your county BoE, or through Joe Torre. If you have any other questions about voting systems, he would definitely be the person to talk to, as he is very diligent and knowledgeable, and he enjoys talking about his work.

It should be noted in regards to this manual, though, that it is about to become completely obsolete. In accordance with the Willis report, Delegates Arnick and Kittleman (who both served on the commission) have introduced HB 1457, which would alter the current system of voting system procurement and certification. Currently, the state certifies several types of systems, and leaves the county BoE's the discretion to select and procure systems themselves, subject only to the State BoE's certification and the numerous provisions of Article 33. Under HB 1457 (which has already been reported favorably by CGM and adopted on the House floor), the State Board of Elections would select, rather than certify, a system for use throughout the state. In my conversation with Mr. Torre, he said that he is 99% certain that some type of Direct Recording Electronic system (DRE, similar to the system in use in Baltimore) would be selected by the State Board. This means that the procurement manual is in effect obsolete.

The only exception to this is if there is no system that has been selected by the State Board soon enough before an election. Mr. Torre said that this time frame is determined by the ability to give voters a chance to "practice" on the machines before their actual use in an election. He estimated that November of 2001 would be the deadline for selecting a voting system for use in the General Election of 2002. If a system is indeed selected, then, under HB 1457, those counties using systems that had been decertified (such as the lever machines in PG, Allegany, and Dorchester) would be required to obtain the new, probably DRE, voting systems. Furthermore, the State Board of Elections would be in charge of procuring the voting systems, removing some of the inexperience and slowness that is often encountered at the county level (not to say that the State BoE is always efficient, but at least they're centrally accountable).

All of this is good news, to my thinking, for a number of reasons. I've been talking with Joe and some others at the State Board of Elections for quite a while about the possibility of Instant Runoff Voting in Maryland. When Kurt Hornig, the Assistant Director of the Elections Management Division was charged with writing the fiscal note for SB 233 (Instant Runoff Voting), he didn't even know what it was. Joe gave him a copy of none other than Douglas J. Amy's "Behind the Ballot Box" (which Eric O. was distributing at the IRV workshop in DC). Generally, the people at the State Board of Elections are used to receiving marching orders from the state government, and when asked directly or even indirectly, they say that when state law mandates it, they will happily move to an IRV system. Of course the State Board of Elections isn't supposed to take formal positions on issues that could affect the political structure of state government, and they took no formal position on Pinsky's bill. But they are beginning to learn about the system, and privately, some of them have been impressed with the idea of IRV.

As you may know, DRE systems are easily compatible with ranked ballots. I asked Joe if they would be purchasing the software to allow ranked ballots when they procure the new systems for PG, Allegany, and Dorchester, and he said that they wouldn't do this until state law provided for IRV under any circumstances. But this may bode well for IRV in municipalities that will soon be unable to lease the older mechanical systems because of their scarcity in Maryland. For example, here in Anne Arundel County, we used the "marksense" ballots, but the City of Annapolis rents voting systems from the same company that provides the lever machines to PG County. As long as those machines are available at such a cheap price to Annapolis, there is going to be no change in the voting system. But if DRE's are the only system available in Maryland, it may be easier to convince the City after an election or two to adopt an alternative voting system.

In my conversation with Joe, I mentioned this possibility, and he said that he would very much like municipalities to adopt the system before moving statewide in order to extend the educational period over a period of time and also in order to convince some of the skeptics about the feasibility of ranked ballots. Right now, our most serious open opposition outside of the General Assembly is coming from the Maryland Association of Election Officials (MAEO, sadly, chaired by the head of my home county's BoE), which has openly opposed IRV, citing the cost of educating the public and procurement of IRV-compatible machines. HB 1457 is removing the fiscal argument, leaving only the education argument. What needs to happen is to educate the county boards just as we have begun to educate the State Board about the feasibility of the system and our willingness to help in the educational process.

Sorry for the long message, but I hope that this information is helpful.

Isaac Opalinsky
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