ANNAPOLIS (AP) — A constitutional amendment to allow early voting in Maryland appears certain to go before voters, but it’s not as clear when the state will have paper records on electronic voting machines.
The General Assembly began work yesterday on the voting changes, backed by top Democratic lawmakers. The early-voting idea sparked little debate in House and Senate committees that separately considered the plan.
Paper records proved another matter.
A House committee heard hours of testimony about how the Diebold voting machines should be tweaked to ensure voter confidence that their votes will be counted.
Delegate Sheila E. Hixson, a Montgomery Democrat and sponsor of a bill to require some type of paper voting record, said the idea is “a work in progress.”
But opinions differed on how to add a paper trail, which some say is needed to double-check elections results by hand in case of computer problems.
Linda H. Lamone, the state elections administrator, said there probably isn’t time to add paper ballots to all machines by 2008, the next presidential election. She suggested that precincts offer optical-scan ballots, on which voters mark their choices on paper using a heavy pen, for those who prefer paper ballots in 2008. By 2010, the next gubernatorial race, paper records could be on the electronic machines, she said.
Miss Lamone’s suggestion elicited groans from some in the audience fighting for quicker voting changes. Delegate Jon S. Cardin, Baltimore County Democrat, asked what good a paper-ballot option would do in 2008 if all voters weren’t required to use them, making the paper ballots useless for recounts.
Miss Lamone later said that speedy implementation of paper ballots along with early voting would give elections workers too little time to get ready for an election. She also argued that counting ballots by hand is “unreliable” compared with doing it by computer.
Lawmakers then heard from critics of the Diebold machines. Computer scientist Edward Felten of Princeton University said the machines were “relatively easy” to tamper with. Paper voting receipts, he said, could imbue confidence in election results.
Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., a Calvert and Prince George’s Democrat, said paper records of some sort are a certainty.
Much less divisive is a proposal to amend the state constitution to allow early voting. Lawmakers already have approved early voting, but the state’s highest court later ruled the state constitution forbids it. The ruling means voters would have to approve a change to the state constitution before they could vote early, as allowed in some other states.
In House and Senate committees, there were no opponents to the early-voting idea.
State Treasurer Nancy K. Kopp, a Democrat, was re-elected yesterday to a second four-year term by her fellow lawmakers.
Along with the state comptroller, who collects taxes, the treasurer is one of the state’s chief financial leaders and serves with the governor and the comptroller on the state Board of Public Works. The treasurer also represents the state when it borrows money and helps advise governors on how much money they can safely spend. Mrs. Kopp has been treasurer since 2002. Before that, she represented Montgomery County in the House for 27 years.