Maryland technology officials are questioning whether the state can successfully implement its new paper-ballot voting system in time for the 2016 election cycle, citing a host of issues that include dozens of unresolved hardware and software problems.
David A. Garcia, secretary for Maryland’s Department of Information Technology, last week expressed “strong concerns” to State Board of Elections Administrator Linda H. Lamone about the project’s progress, according to a statement on Friday from the Information Technology department.
The state legislature approved a switch from digital to paper-ballot machines more than seven years ago, responding to concerns about reliability, accessibility and security with the electronic system. However, lawmakers did not fund the change until last year.
Garcia’s chief of staff, Albert Bullock, said in a memo to Garcia this month that the system as it stands “cannot be a success.” He listed seven areas of concern, including incomplete testing, a lack of security verification, mounting problems with hardware and software, and an inability to tabulate votes.
Bullock recommended that the state “reevaluate the project to guarantee Maryland is able to participate in the upcoming election.”
Nikki Charlson, deputy administrator for the State Board of Elections, said the panel strongly supports the new paper-ballot voting machines and looks forward to implementing them for next year’s primary election.
The state has given the machines trial runs over the past several weeks. In October, the state and local election board conducted a statewide mock election, and municipal elections were held this month across the state, including in Rockville and College Park.
“We had a terrific experience,” Charlson said. “Voters adjusted to the change.”
The new paper-ballot machines will replace the touch-screen voting system that the state has used for about a decade.
Maryland was among the first states to do away with paper ballots after the 2000 presidential election, which went undecided for weeks because of problems with Florida’s paper-ballot system.
Maryland had relied on a patchwork of voting methods, including paper-based systems that involved hole-punching and filling in ovals with a pen or pencil.
The state’s move to electronic machines ultimately proved troublesome, with voters experiencing glitches during the 2006 primary election. Then-Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R) and a bipartisan coalition of lawmakers pushed for a verifiable paper record to document votes.
The new paper-based system, which would be unified across the state, will scan ballots that voters mark with a pen or pencil. Renting the new scanning machines is expected to cost about $25 million.