Mr. Ehrlich's Paper Chase

The governor's 'solutions' address the wrong election problem.


Friday, September 22, 2006; A16


PROBLEMS IN voting on Maryland's primary day presented Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R) with a choice: show the leadership expected of the state's top executive or succumb to the political motives of a candidate running for reelection. Unfortunately, it is Mr. Ehrlich the candidate who emerged with proposals certain to confuse the public and undermine confidence in voting for the Nov. 7 general election.


Mr. Ehrlich says he doesn't trust the state's electronic voting system, and so he wants to junk it. First he suggested paper ballots; when more level-headed officials pointed out there was no way, even if desired, to make that switch by Nov. 7, he proposed having everyone cast absentee ballots. Coming from someone who vetoed a bill that would expand the use of absentee ballots, the suggestion would be laughable if it were not so infuriating.


Mr. Ehrlich's imagined connection between the problems experienced on primary day and the integrity of voting machines is simply wrong. Most of the problems on Sept. 12 resulted from human error: officials forgetting to deliver cards to operate machines, judges not showing up, workers failing to remove memory cards. The one big equipment problem had to do with the electronic poll books (used by poll workers to check voters off as they come in) and not, as Mr. Ehrlich might have you believe, with the machines voters use to cast their ballots.


In fact, not only did the touch-screen voting machines work largely without incident across the state in the recent primary, but this was not the first time they have been employed. In the 2002 election, when Mr. Ehrlich became governor, four counties -- including the state's largest, Montgomery -- used these units. In the 2004 presidential election, every locality except Baltimore City used them. So why is this an issue now?


Aides to Mr. Ehrlich explain that in recent years new information about the vulnerability of electronic voting to fraud has become available and that the governor is responding to those worries. We, too, have argued for a paper trail for machine voting, but this is hardly the time for dramatic reform. Democrats counter that Mr. Ehrlich wants to help his reelection by suppressing voter turnout in a largely Democratic state.


We have no way of knowing Mr. Ehrlich's intent, but we do believe that his words and actions are creating a sense of confusion that could discourage voting. Instead of setting up hypothetical problems and appealing to people's fears, Mr. Ehrlich should focus on identifying and fixing actual problems.


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