WASHINGTON – Whether it's the risk of computer glitches or poll workers' mistakes,experts are warning voters across the nation about potential Election Day problems.
A report released Wednesday by Electiononline.org,a non-partisan election watchdog,listed 10 states to watch on Nov. 7. Each has a combination of new voting technology or litigation and contentious campaigns that could result in post-election squabbles.
The states are Arizona,Colorado,Connecticut,Florida,Indiana,Maryland,New York,Ohio,Pennsylvania and Washington.
Maryland landed its spot because of a bungled primary last month in Montgomery County,a suburb just outside the capital,in which a combination of human and technical errors forced many people to cast their votes on scraps of paper.
Maryland voters will chose a new U.S. senator and decide whether to replace the incumbent governor. The most recent Washington Post poll found that neither race was close.
After the primary,Montgomery County hired Election Center,a non-profit Houston-based consulting group that reviews election procedures and makes recommendations to fix the problems. The county released the report Monday.
Ernie Hawkins,Election Center's director of consulting services,said Montgomery County has “room for improvement.”
The report contains 37 recommendations,the most important being better communication among polling officials. Other recommendations included better training for election judges – which the county has done – and creating backup plans.
Hawkins said poor communication caused the majority of problems,especially the late delivery of access cards that run the electronic voting machines.
“There were a lot of relatively minor issues,” he said,”but when you add them all together you have a problem.”
Ross Goldstein,a Maryland State Board of Elections deputy administrator,said,”We've identified the problem,and we've fixed the problem. We're confident that problem won't happen again.”
He said the computers voters used to sign in at the polls had a glitch that caused them to reboot after every 40 people. Goldstein said those computers,made by Diebold Elections Systems Inc.,were sent to the manufacturer for repair.
A study released by Election Data Services Oct. 2 said about 55 million voters,or one-third of nation's voters,will use new voting technology this year. Since the Help America Vote Act of 2002,63 percent of voters are using new voting technology.
The wave of innovations comes after HAVA aimed to get rid of the technology that led to the “hanging chad” fiasco in 2000.
But new technology,such as Diebold's touch screen system,is what has some Maryland voters concerned – especially because Maryland's machines don't produce a paper receipt.
Linda Schade,co-founder of the grassroots organization TrueVoteMD that aims to substitute paper ballots for electronic voting machines,said Nov. 7 is gearing up to be a “perfect storm” of election troubles.
She said a combination of voter confusion and poll worker anxiety caused by the September primary will continue if Maryland keeps the technology that has cost the state more than $100 million.
“What you need in a voting system is it to be accurate,auditable,transparent,” Schade said.
But Frances K. Burka,72,a Chevy Chase resident who voted in the Montgomery County primary,said problems were just an inconvenience.
“I don't think it's a huge problem,” the retired librarian said,adding that with paper ballots,”there is as much potential for things to go wrong.”
Shawn J. Parry-Giles,a political communications professor at the University of Maryland,said electronic voting machines are a wonderful technology but the kinks need to be worked out.
“I just think there is a lot of doubt about the accuracy of voting,” she said. “They are going to have to work pretty hard to show voters that those problems that happened in September aren't going to recur.”
But all the blame shouldn't be put on the machines,said Paul Herrnson,director of the Center for American Politics and Citizenship at the University of Maryland.
“The primary election was really marred by some pretty,in some ways ridiculous,mistakes,” he said.
Herrnson,who has released two studies since the 2000 election that tested how voters use machines such as Diebold's,said the electronic voting machines have a very high level of accuracy,and going back to paper wouldn't help.
He said part of the problem was Maryland “had poll workers who are uncomfortable with the task.”
Some experts say more federal oversight of voting equipment could help avoid the problems Maryland counties encountered.
The Election Assistance Commission will vote Dec. 7 on whether to establish a federal certification process for voting machines.
Paul S. DeGregorio,chair of the commission that was established after HAVA's enactment,said federal oversight would be a first for the U.S. The program would test voting machines and certify them,although states would not be required to use them.
“It's a major step forward,” he said.
Despite all the fuss about voting technology and troubled elections,Hawkins said he doesn't think voters have been disenfranchised.
“If there's any good that has come of this,it's that they are aware and they're not taking anything for granted,” he said.
New Montgomery County resident Yolanda Mazyck,44,the director of a non-profit for people with disabilities,said she's more distrusting of the voting process after learning about the problems during the primary.
“Given we're in an age when technology seems to be at its best,we're still struggling,” she said.