With thousands of voters in the Washington suburbs and beyond standing in line for hours at polling places in November, the measure would also require state election officials to study how to reduce the average wait to 30 minutes or less.
Although it has been warmly received by much of the General Assembly, the legislation has been caught up, in part, over efforts to fix a provision that would allow absentee voters to receive ballots over the Internet instead of by mail.
Advocates for people with disabilities have lobbied heavily for the measure, saying it would allow those who need a lot of time to vote or who cannot vote without the help of others to do so more conveniently from home. But a group of election technology experts warned last month that the online system could be exploited on a mass scale, potentially jeopardizing election results.
The Maryland House and Senate have passed similar proposals to tighten security, and key lawmakers on Thursday predicted that a final compromise could be reached this week. But a grass-roots voting group said the proposed changes would still leave the online-ballot-delivery system vulnerable.
If approved, the system would allow any Marylander who votes absentee to receive a password by e-mail to download and mark a ballot at home before mailing it back to election officials.
Security concerns revolve around a vulnerability that election officials acknowledge in the state’s new online voter registration system. Since last year, Maryland residents have been able to use their state driver’s license numbers to register online. But in Maryland, that number is a formula of a resident’s name and birth date.
Critics say hackers could use publicly available databases and birth date information from social media sites to decode driver’s license numbers. That information, they say, could be used to assume Maryland voters’ identities and request large numbers of ballots over the Internet.
State election officials say they are monitoring the registration system for automated attacks and would spot wide-scale suspicious behavior almost immediately.
Under changes passed in recent weeks in the House and Senate, a voter would also have to provide the last four digits of his or her Social Security number before being able to register online.
The House version would also require a voter to provide additional information known only to the applicant, and it would increase penalties for voter fraud to up to $5,000 and one year in jail. In addition, the House would require the State Board of Elections to engage an independent consultant to study and make recommendations on improving security of the online absentee system.