Linda H. Lamone is the state elections administrator in Maryland, where touch-screen voting machines are to be used in every jurisdiction except Baltimore for the Nov. 2 election. She spoke with staff writer Hamil R. Harris.
Q There could be historically large voter turnout. What assurances can you offer that Maryland's computerized voting system can handle this?
A First, it is important to note that the counties in Maryland prepare for an election with the hope that 100 percent of the voters participate. Therefore, the election processes are well equipped to handle a large turnout. Second, I am confident that Maryland's voting system will be able to handle the anticipated high voter turnout. The voting system has been subjected to several tiers of testing, some of which involve placing a great number of votes on the units.
In addition, one of the numerous tests we perform includes casting a good number of votes on the units and comparing the actual electronic tally with the known expected vote tally to ensure the results from the test match the expected results. We will continue to test the voting system on Election Day, utilizing a concept called parallel testing that again compares the actual electronic tally with a known expected tally.
Is there any effort to encourage voters to go to the polls earlier in the day to avoid congestion during the final hours the polls are open, and is there a contingency to extend poll hours?
Typically, the peak voting hours are 7 to 9 a.m., 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. and 4 to 8 p.m. We always encourage voters, if possible, to vote during the off-peak voting hours, but regardless of what time of day the voters arrive, the election judges try to move the voters through the process as quickly as possible. Remember: All voters in line at 8 p.m. will be allowed to vote.
Only a court or, if a state of emergency has been declared, the governor may extend voting hours beyond 8 p.m. Maryland's judicial branch is always available on Election Day should a circumstance arise that would warrant requesting a court to extend voting hours.
What type of contingencies can you talk about in the event there is a massive power outage, a terrorist attack or a natural disaster such as a hurricane?
At the state level, we have a disaster recovery and incident management plan that addresses how to respond to these types of events. The local election officials also have implemented complementary plans, and election judges are instructed how to manage a polling place in the event an emergency occurs. Additionally, state and local election officials regularly communicate with emergency management and law enforcement personnel when preparing for and conducting an election.
What impact has the increased interest in voting had on your budget and staff needs?
The implementation of the new voting [machine] system and associated security measures, as well as the implementation of the federal Help America Vote Act, has required an increase in both personnel and funding. Some of the funding increase has been absorbed by federal funds targeted to improving election administration, but the federal funds appropriated do not cover all of the costs associated with implementing the new federal law.
We routinely hear about low voter turnout. Can you tell me about an election that marked the historic high in Maryland in terms of people casting votes?
In the Nov. 3, 1992, presidential election, 81 percent of Maryland voters voted for president. This is the highest voter turnout in recent history. We hope the turnout for this November will break that record.