IT'S RECKLESS, but election officials in Maryland remain steadfastly committed to using voting machines in November that could be useless for any post-election audit of votes. All the computers may tick like Swiss watches, but as we noted the other day, a little mishap with a demonstration machine at the Takoma Park Folk Festival did generate a bit of a stir when during a test it misregistered the voting intention of Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski (D-Md.) on a sample question. That prompted understandable concern on the part of Stan Boyd, a retired teacher who had signed up as an Election Day worker for Montgomery County and who had borrowed the machine from the county Board of Elections for the festival. Mr. Boyd said he wanted to find out more about the machine's innards.
But after media reports of the malfunction, the board called Mr. Boyd to demand that he surrender the machine right away. He refused, eventually explaining that he intended to let an expert hired by the CBS program "60 Minutes" examine it. Okay, perhaps not the smoothest move, but the board blew a gasket. It got a court order to recover the machine. Mr. Boyd said a CBS expert had already examined it. The elections board didn't stop there; it voted to remove Mr. Boyd as an election judge at the polls, where he would have earned $130 for duties such as greeting voters and showing them to the machines that they will have to trust to work right.
Lost in all this overblown reaction is a basic question: Has the board taken a look at the machine? If, as board officials say, the machine was just a demo that didn't contain the software and security safeguards that will be in the machines to be used, what were they demonstrating? CBS News officials, for their part, haven't said how their examination went. If the intention of the elections officials was to bolster public confidence in the integrity of the voting system in November, they did just the opposite.