- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 9, 2006

ANNAPOLIS — Maryland’s House voted yesterday to abandon electronic-voting machines that don’t print receipts, setting up the possibility that Marylanders will return to pens and pencils instead of electronic screens this fall.

The bill, which passed 137-0 with little debate, prohibits the use of Diebold voting machines in this year’s elections amid concerns from both parties that the machines don’t provide paper receipts that could be counted by hand in a contested election.

The measure now heads to the Senate, where its fortunes are less clear. Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., a Democrat, has questioned the wisdom of leasing optical-scan machines that read ballots marked by hand. Maryland has already spent about $90 million acquiring and maintaining the Diebold machines, and the lease requirement for optical-scan machines would add another $12.5 million this year, supporters said.

Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a Republican, has called for paper records of votes and will likely sign the optical-scan measure if it comes to his desk.

“Our electoral process … must be safeguarded,” said Delegate Anthony J. O’Donnell, the second-ranking Republican in the House.

“The machines we have right now are very susceptible” to fraud, Mr. O’Donnell added.

Maryland used electronic-voting machines in all polling places for the 2004 election and was one of the first states to do so. Nationally, about 40 million voters used touch-screen machines in the 2004 presidential election.

The plan to lease optical-scan machines for one year only came after state elections officials said they didn’t have time to add paper records to the Diebold machines for this fall’s September primaries. Using optical-scan ballots, voters fill in a circle or arrow next to the names of candidates and then feed the paper ballot into a machine that records the votes.

The House took less than 10 minutes to approve the change, which lawmakers will have to revisit in future years if they are to make a permanent change to how people vote. The only delegate to question the measure, William J. Frank, Baltimore County Republican, ultimately voted in favor of it.

“It’s unfortunate that we spent all this money” on the machines, Mr. Frank said after the vote, but he added that public confidence in elections is more important than the expense. The state spends about $7 million a year maintaining the Diebold machines.

“We have to make it right and the way to make it right is to have a paper trail, and that will ensure confidence in the election,” Mr. Frank said.

Mr. Miller repeated his doubts yesterday about whether Maryland should warehouse its electronic-voting machines.

“They worked perfectly two years ago,” Mr. Miller said. “We had the lowest rate of error of any state in the country. The machines worked perfectly.”

Mr. Miller also pointed out that optical-scan voting would slow results, although he didn’t predict whether the bill would fail in his chamber.