New York Times

March 23, 2006




Common Sense in Maryland


Diebold, the electronic voting machine maker, suffered another sharp setback recently, when Maryland's House of Delegates voted 137-to-0 to drop its machines and switch to paper ballots. The vote came in the same week that Texas held elections marred by electronic voting troubles. Maryland's State Senate should join the House in voting to discontinue the use of the Diebold machines, and other states should follow Maryland's lead.


Maryland was one of the first states to embrace Diebold. But Maryland voters and elected officials have grown increasingly disenchanted as evidence has mounted that the machines cannot be trusted. In 2004, security experts from RABA Technologies told the state legislature that they had been able to hack into the machines in a way that would make it possible to steal an election. Senator Barbara Mikulski, a Democrat, informed the State Board of Elections in 2004 that voters had complained to her that machines had mysteriously omitted the Senate race.


The Maryland House's bill calls for replacing the Diebold machines with optical scanning machines for this fall's elections. Gov. Robert Ehrlich Jr., once a Diebold supporter, has said he'll sign the bill if the State Senate agrees. Optical scanning machines would be a vast improvement. Voters using them fill out paper ballots, which are scanned electronically. Those ballots are a permanent record that can (and should) be used to double-check the machine results. Although time is short, Maryland should be able to get optical scanning machines operating by the fall. Even though the Board of Elections has been resisting the proposal, that should not stop the General Assembly and the governor from fighting for machines that voters will trust.


The Maryland House voted days after Texas held an election with the sort of disturbing electronic voting glitches that have by now become common. In Tarrant County, as many as 100,000 extra votes appeared on the machines election officials insisted that they knew which ones to eliminate to make the results correct. In a hotly contested Congressional race in another part of the state, results were delayed by programming errors in the machines used in two crucial counties.

Many states have passed laws requiring paper records for electronic voting. What is happening in Maryland is important, because not a single member of the House stood behind the once popular Diebold machines. It is just the latest indication that common sense is starting to prevail in the battle over electronic voting.


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