Correction to This Article
A previous version of this article misspelled the last name of Montgomery County Board of Elections spokeswoman Marjorie Roher.

Md. Panel Calls for More Voting Machines, Hotline

By Rosalind S. Helderman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, April 30, 2008

A Maryland task force formed to examine voting irregularities during the state's 2006 primary election has recommended an increase in the number of voting machines at polling places, a state-run hotline for voters concerned about misleading campaign literature and better communication between state and local boards of elections.

The 13-member task force submitted a report to Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler (D) yesterday at Evangel Cathedral in Upper Marlboro. Gansler said lengthy lines for predominantly black voters that year helped inspire the group's creation.

"This is America in the 21st century, yet it took three hours to exercise the franchise," he said yesterday. "It reminded me of the days of literacy tests and poll taxes -- obstacles to voting, to merely exercise one of the most fundamental rights in our democracy."

Task force co-chairman Sherrilyn A. Ifill, a professor at the University of Maryland School of Law, said the group will also submit a report with long-term recommendations to improve the voting process in Maryland. Yesterday's effort, she said, was designed to provide suggestions that can be implemented in time for the November election, during which record voter turnout is predicted.

Long lines were just one problem during the 2006 vote. Newly acquired electronic poll books, used to check in voters, broke down repeatedly. In Montgomery County, the start of voting was delayed after election officials failed to supply polls with cards needed to work the electronic machines.

Election results from the 2006 primary took days to be finalized in Prince George's County, after precinct judges encountered difficulties electronically transmitting results on election night. And in the general election, voters in Prince George's were incensed by campaign fliers handed out at polls that falsely suggested local Democratic leaders had endorsed Republicans.

The task force concluded that the compounding issues created a "perfect storm of voting problems" that undermined confidence in the process.

"Most importantly . . . eligible voters were unable to cast their ballots, and those who observed long lines at poll places, unorthodox ballot security measures or misleading campaign materials lost faith in the integrity of our election system," they wrote.

The group recommended that local boards of elections publicize how many voting machines will be allocated for each polling place three weeks before the election. Boards should explain in writing why any precinct would receive fewer machines than recommended by state officials, the report said.

The task force requested better training of election administrators and legal counsels, more uniform canvassing of provisional ballots and a comprehensive effort to educate voters about how to use electronic voting machines.

It also wants signs posted at polling places listing hotline numbers for voters to report deceptive materials to the attorney general's office and the Maryland State Board of Elections. Task force members also said more education is needed to inform voters about lengthy ballot questions that increase the amount of time each person spends voting. More sample ballots should be available for review at polling places, they said.

The task force did not address the reliability of the state's electronic voting or registration systems, but members said they planned to return to the issue in their next report, noting that they repeatedly heard concerns about the equipment in public hearings.

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