Guest post: Montgomery County electronic voting finally gets a real paper trail

Voting is one of the most fundamental civil rights — but electronic systems used by Maryland and Montgomery County have been vulnerable to abuse. Now new systems, to be deployed in April, promise improvement. Guest author Robert Lanza explains.

DS200 Ballot Box (ESS)

DS200 Ballot Box (ESS)

I attended a presentation by Montgomery County Board of Elections outreach, to introduce our new voting machines.  There will be two systems, one for the Early Voting period and one for Election Day voting.  Both systems are electronic (touch screen) systems that will generate a paper ballot (permanent) record of the votes cast. This conforms (finally) to legislation passed unanimously by the Maryland legislature about ten years ago that required a state-wide paper ballot system.

The short explanation for the ten-year delay is that the recession hit shortly after the legislation passed, and there was never any budget to purchase new voting machines until now.  There was also foot-dragging by the State Election Administrator.  The explanation for the fact that there are two different systems for Early Voting and for Election Day is that there aren’t enough of the type of machines that will be used during the Early Voting period to also deploy on Election Day, when voter volume will be much higher. Montgomery County intends to go to a single type of paper ballot system for the next election, and has leased the voting machinery only for 2016 rather than purchase the voting machinery outright, to allow for future improvements and system harmonization.

The Montgomery County Board of Education referenced that “Takoma Park activists” were in part responsible for the paper ballot system.

ExpressVote (ESS)

ExpressVote (ESS) – allows voters with disabilities to vote privately and independently.

Some meeting attendees still questioned why Maryland needs paper ballots. This is an important responsibility of the Montgomery County Board of Elections outreach, to better explain that this isn’t just the law, it is also a good idea.  One recent example is hackers who recently conducted an experiment to hack into an automobile on-board computer system, using a wireless system, and “drove” the automobile remotely while the driver (who was in on the experiment) just sat there.

Also, some meeting attendees were grumbling about the fact that Maryland doesn’t require voter ID every time people vote (ID is required to register and for first-time voters.)  There is this Great Myth that “voter impersonation” is rampant, when there is no evidence that this is the case.  The Montgomery County Board of Elections outreach representative noted that there have been some “intentional” instances of voter impersonation (activists trying to prove that it can be done to make a political point, and committing a felony in the process).  A rational way to look at this is that a voter impersonator can change one vote. A hacker with a wireless system can change all the votes.

The Montgomery County Board of Elections has lots of info about the new paper ballot systems on their website:

Anyway, an accomplishment for us activists.

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