MARYLANDERS CAN only hope that their votes are tallied correctly this November because now more than ever voting will be a touchy exercise: If you don't have the proper touch, the touch-screen machines might misunderstand your intentions. The state's highest court has refused to order any security upgrades to Maryland's new $55 million electronic system or to require paper ballots for voters who still hold the old-fashioned belief that a paper record of each ballot should be available to audit tallies. If the system isn't flawlessly programmed by the best-trained experts available it may be difficult to ascertain whether the count is accurate.
Banking on a perfect performance by every machine is beyond risky. But any good audit depends on some record of how each vote was cast. The new machines could have been fitted with a paper-trail capacity but weren't modified in time for Election Day. Last week the Court of Appeals affirmed an Anne Arundel Circuit judge's finding that elections officials had done enough to ensure the secrecy and security of the vote -- and so it will go, for better or worse.
Meanwhile, another dispute arose after a demonstration machine misregistered the voting intention of Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski (D-Md.) during a visit to the Takoma Park Folk Festival. As reported by The Post's Eric Rich and Darragh Johnson, Mikulski spokesman Michael Morrill said that as the senator touched the screen to vote on a sample referendum question, she "apparently brushed" the question below it, highlighting "yes." She corrected the vote by touching "yes" again and then touching "no," which was her intended reply and her vote registered correctly.
Just a fluke, detected and corrected? Just a demo machine, anyway? One concerned volunteer election worker borrowed the machine and then said he intended to let an expert hired by CBS News examine it. Montgomery County's election board asked for its prompt return and, when that didn't occur, went to court, where a judge ordered the worker to surrender the machine. Will the board itself now examine the machine or just stick to its argument in court that testing a demonstration unit could wrongly undermine public confidence in the machines to be used in November? If the machine wasn't checked out, why was it being shown off at the fair?
Public confidence in a system without a paper trail ought to be shaky. And even if it's too late to require a paper record for this year's elections, Congress should stop sitting on legislation that would require this essential change.