Idea for Emergency Paper Ballots Torn Up by Election Officials

By Lisa Rein
Sunday, August 31, 2008

It goes without saying that some voters will encounter long lines at the polls this Election Day. The question for voting rights groups and election officials is how to shorten waiting times, and they're sharply at odds.

SAVEourVotes and the Fair Elections Legal Network want precincts to turn to emergency paper ballots if there are not enough touch-screen machines to keep lines moving. Paper ballots, used now for absentee and provisional voting, record votes with optical scan machines that read voters' marks on the ballots, similar to standardized tests.

William A. Edelstein, an election judge from Baltimore who has researched paper ballots extensively, made his case to the State Board of Elections in Annapolis on Thursday, saying that waits over 45 minutes are too long and that many people left before voting in 2004. "They were disenfranchised."

Local election administrators said a paper ballot system could create havoc with workers and voters who would not know how it works. "With just over 60 days left, that's an inadequate amount of time," Guy Mickley, director of the Maryland Association of Election Officials, told the board. "You could potentially intimidate and confuse voters." Not to mention the $1.3 million it would take to set up privacy barriers and software, he said.

"We have to be especially careful that in an effort to solve one problem, we don't create others," said David J. McManus Jr., a board member.

In the end the five-member board concluded that the election staff has prepared adequately for lines by leasing 1,200 extra touch-screen machines, training almost 4,000 new judges and buying hundreds of electronic poll books.

The Fine Print on Slots

Voters who enjoy slogging through fine print can learn a lot more about the Nov. 4 slots referendum than they might glean at the ballot box -- if they read their sample ballots.

The sample ballot for Question 2, a proposed constitutional amendment to authorize video lottery terminals in Maryland, will be sent to registered voters a few weeks before Election Day.

The language is lengthy and detailed, but it lays out exactly what gambling opponents are fighting to have included on the real ballot: The exact locations where the five slots parlors would go and the precise allocation of revenue from as many as 15,000 machines that a yes vote would authorize, as spelled out in the legislation the General Assembly approved last fall to put the referendum on the ballot.

The ballot language drafted by Secretary of State John McDonough lists locations in four counties and the city of Baltimore and notes several education programs that gambling revenue would fund. But here's how all the money would be spent:

"The revenues generated by video lottery terminal gaming activities are to be distributed as follows: a minimum of 48.5% to the Education Trust Fund; no more than 33% to the video lottery operating licensees; 7% to horse racing purses (not to exceed $100,000,000 annually); 5.5% in local impact grants; 2.5% to the racetrack facility renewal account, not to exceed $40,000,000 annually (for the first 8 years only); 2% to the lottery agency for costs; and 1.5% to the Small, Minority, and Women- Owned Businesses Account."

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