Maryland Senate Democrats said Thursday that they do not share Gov. Larry Hogan’s concern that the state’s new paper-ballot voting system will fail, and blasted Hogan’s administration for refusing to pay for a campaign to teach voters about the machines.
Maryland is getting rid of its touch-screen machines for the April 26 primary. Voters will instead fill out paper ballots and put them through a scanner.
The $28 million project — which comes nearly a decade after lawmakers wary of the electronic machines demanded a voting system with a paper trail — was the subject of a hearing Thursday before the Senate Committee on Education, Health and Environmental Affairs.
Last month, Maryland’s Department of Information Technology questioned whether the state was heading for disaster by rushing to use the new system after detecting problems in testing and slow software delivery by the machines’ vendor, Election Systems & Software.
At Thursday’s hearing, Democratic senators grilled representatives of the IT oversight team, calling their concerns vague and misplaced.
The number of unresolved problems has shrunk from 87 to 24 since the IT department’s warnings, according to internal tracking reports.
Luis Estrada, the department’s deputy secretary, told lawmakers that many concerns remain about the April primary despite these improvements, including hardware defects and project management issues.
But he provided few details, leading committee Chairwoman Joan Carter Conway (D-Baltimore) to ask: “If you can’t give me any specifics of what the problems are, how can you monitor them?”
Sen. Richard S. Madaleno Jr. (D-Montgomery) said the State Board of Elections has a solid track record on these types of projects. “These are people around the state who have managed to implement a series of enhancements and do it well, with few glitches,” he said.
Estrada warned that Maryland has yet to fully test the new machines and other initiatives that will be implemented in April, including same-day voter registration.
“The machines are one component of a very complex project,” he said.
State Election Administrator Linda Lamone and Board of Elections Chairman David J. McManus Jr., a Republican appointed by Hogan (R), defended the project’s pace and said that problems are being resolved.
Kathy Rogers, a senior vice president for Election Systems & Software, told the Senate panel that her company has assigned additional staff to swiftly fix problems at no cost to Maryland. She said a debacle in Maryland would be disastrous for the company and would ruin its chances of doing business in other states.
Montgomery County Election Director Margaret Jurgensen said her department is more worried about not having enough machines for the general election and not enough election judges to resolve disputes than it is about the machines malfunctioning.
Democratic lawmakers took time during the hearing to criticize a 2-to-1 vote last summer by the state Board of Public Works not to authorize a $1.8 million campaign to teach the public about the new machines.
Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford (R) and Comptroller Peter Franchot (D) voted against the proposal, calling it a waste of money.
Madaleno questioned whether the rejection of the campaign amounted to a violation of state law requiring outreach surrounding any new voting machines.
McManus, the Republican board chairman, said he would have liked the state to approve the education campaign, but said that the new machines were user-friendly.
“If something needs to be cut, it’s not a bad place to start,” he said.