- The Washington Times - Monday, November 27, 2000

ANNAPOLIS With leases of voting equipment in most of Maryland's jurisdictions ending within the next four years, the state is in an excellent position to go to a standardized statewide voting system, election officials said.
This comes amid concern over unclear and questionable ballots in some Florida jurisdictions that used a punch-card voting system similar to that used in Montgomery County.
This debate has delayed Florida's final vote total and the result of the presidential election between Republican George W. Bush and Democrat Al Gore.
Maryland jurisdictions use four major types of voting systems: touch-screen, optical scan, punch card and lever machines.
Twenty of the 24 voting jurisdictions are considering changes in their voting systems either because their equipment leases are up, their current voting systems will become illegal or they want to improve system efficiency and accuracy.
While it would be up to the General Assembly to implement a statewide voting system, the members of the Board of Elections "would probably support legislation that would create a statewide system," said Linda H. Lamone, the state administrator of elections.
"We're in a perfect position to perhaps implement such a system," she said.
Maryland should have a standard voting system, said Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., a Prince George's County Democrat.
But it's unlikely that the local boards of elections will give up their authority and allow the state to take over the funding and oversight of the elections.
"In terms of getting to uniform, I think we're going to have to get a blue-ribbon committee … and go about selling the counties on why we need to make a change," Mr. Miller said.
In the last few years, there has been a push for more computerized and fewer mechanical voting systems in Maryland to help make the results of the election known in a quicker, more accurate fashion, said Donna J. Duncan, Maryland Board of Elections director.
In 1996, Baltimore replaced its mechanical lever voting machines with electronic touch-screen voting machines, at a cost of $6.5 million.
These touch-screen machines allow voters to view the whole ballot on a computer screen and choose a candidate by touching next to the candidate's name to light up the selection.
"The computer was the way to go," said Lolita Fales, Baltimore City Board of Elections deputy director. Such machines make sure that voters can't choose two candidates for the same office, a detriment of the punch-card ballot voting system used in Montgomery County that causes ballots to be invalidated each election.
Mr. Miller said he too thinks the voting system needs to be computerized.
"That's where we need to be … this Florida election fiasco has, I believe, proved my point," Mr. Miller said.
In 1999, the General Assembly passed a bill sponsored by Mr. Miller that makes the mechanical lever machines illegal six months before the 2002 election.
Mechanical lever machines have been in use in Maryland since the 1950s. But most jurisdictions use an optical scan ballot system, where voters use a pen or pencil to mark their selection, which then is read and counted by a computer.
Jurisdictions considering new voting systems are in a difficult position because they can consider only those systems that are certified by the state. Only one computerized or direct recording electronic system, the touch-screen system in Baltimore, has been certified by the state.
"Our hands are tied on the type of system that we can get," said Robin M. Downs, Prince George's County acting elections administrator. Prince George's County is one of the three jurisdictions that need to change their mechanical lever voting system by 2002.
Some of the new voting equipment will be presented to the Maryland Board of Elections for review this winter or spring.

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