Maryland’s Touch-Screen Voting System Will Have a Paper Trail
In 2016, Maryland will adopt a new voting system that provides for a paper audit trail. The current system is Direct Recording Electronic (DRE), which does not employ any paper whatsoever. While totally on-line operation is widely used for many computer applications, the Maryland legislature has adopted a requirement not to trust direct recording in the voting process.
The new system will be associated with a database of all registered voters in the state. When a registered voter arrives at a polling station ready to vote, the database will determine the precinct of that voter and, on command of an official, will mark a blank ballot with a bar code that identifies the voter’s precinct. Thus, ballots preprinted for every voter’s precinct will not be needed in advance.
The voter will enter the precinct-identified ballot into a voting device. The ballot’s preprinted bar code will inform the device what specific contests the voter is to consider. The contests will be shown on the device’s touch-screen and the voter will touch his/her choices, thereby recording them. The choices will be printed on the ballot in two forms. The first form is English-language, so that the voter can read the choices made. The second form is bar code.
When the voter has finished voting and the ballot is marked, the voter will remove the ballot from the voting device and enter the ballot into a reading device. The reading device, using the printed bar codes, summarizes the voter’s choices with choices from all the other voters and it retains the ballot. At the close of polls, the reading devices contain the summaries of the choices of all voters. Later, some ballots may be recounted by hand, to assure voters that the choices printed in bar code match the choices printed in English language.
The system does not employ hand-marked ballots, except for ballots submitted by absentee voters by mail. Hand-marking of ballots by voters allows the issue of the “intent of the voter” to be raised in close elections. Some marks will be too light to be read correctly, some smudges will be misread and some voters will not follow instructions in properly marking their ballots so they can be correctly read. Post-election lawsuits about the winners are costly, resulting in delayed results and lower public confidence in the fairness of the process.
In the new voting system, the uniform markings made by machines do not permit the issue of “intent of the voter” to be raised in ballots voted at polling stations.
Roy G. Saltman, Columbia, MD
The writer is a retired computer scientist and author of “The History and Politics of Voting Technology,” published 2006 by Palgrave Macmillan. The book is available in hardcover or paperback.