a citizen’s journal by Thomas Nephew

Optical scan vote by 2010 imperiled (again) in Maryland – UPDATE

Posted by Thomas Nephew on March 15th, 2009


Governor O’Malley will be submitting a new budget this week with hundreds of millions in cuts and we want to make sure that the transition to optical scan is included in the new budget. Call the governor’s office TODAY — NOW — 410.974.3901 –and tell them keep the op-scan funding in place. Your message can be this simple: Please keep funding for optical scan voting in place. The transition will save Maryland two million dollars next year and over the next few years those savings will be compounded with less expensive machines and lower operating costs.”

The Maryland Senate leadership met this weekend to — as’s Kevin Zeese put it in an e-mail alert — “decide whether to derail the transition to paper ballot-based voting.” Zeese continues: “They are considering this action under the guise of cost savings when in fact transition to paper ballots with optical scan counting will save money.”

No word yet on what transpired at that meeting — State Senator Jamie Raskin told me today he didn’t know where the leadership is going with this issue.

Optical scan, paper ballot-based voting is a no-brainer compared to the hideously expensive, unverifiable, breakdown-prone, easily hacked DRE (direct recording equipment) touch screen voting machines currently in use in Maryland.  If you already agree that optical scan voting machines are the way to go, here are some ways you can help tonight and tomorrow:

  1. Send the email message at this link to some well-selected recipients — (a) members of the Senate Education, Health & Environment and Budget and Taxation Committees; (b) Senate leadership including Mike Miller, Jr., Nathaniel J. McFadden, Edward J. Kasemeyer, Lisa A. Gladden, and Robert J. Garagiola, and (c) Governor O’Malley.
  2. Join in a “lobby night” tomorrow evening (Monday, March 16) at the Senate Building in Annapolis, MD:

    “We will meet in the Senate Building, 11 Bladen St, at 5:30 in the rotunda (turn right and walk up the ramp after passing through the metal detector). There you will be organized into teams and given legislators to talk to along with talking points and other materials. In preparation for the lobby night please visit: and get the list of your Delegates and Senator. Please send that information to Stan Boyd, and let him know you are coming so we can organize the lobby night.”

The prepared text of the TrueVote e-mail is as follows (emphases added):

The transition to paper ballot-based voting with optical scan counting should continue on time in 2010. This is especially true in light of the economic challenges facing Maryland and the state budget.

Optical scan will immediately save Maryland millions of dollars and will save even more money in the long term.

Regarding the short term savings, the up keep for the Diebold/Premier touch screen machines is more expensive than purchasing the optical scan machines.  Maryland will immediately save millions of dollars. In fact, if the legislature takes out the funding for the transition to optical scan the governor will have to add back more funding for the up keep of the touch screen machines. It will cost the state more money at a time when it is looking at budget cuts and staff furloughs.

In the long term, the optical scan voting systems are much less expensive than the current system, because Maryland needs only one optical scan machine per precinct while needing at least six touch screen machines per precinct – more for precincts with larger numbers of voters. Thus, every aspect of the optical scan machines saves money: purchase, storage, security, upkeep, transportation, set-up and all other costs. Every step of the way there will be budget savings for Maryland.

Transition to paper ballot-based voting with optical scan counters is a win-win for Maryland. It will save Maryland money in the short-term and long-term; and it will put in place a transparent system that voters can trust which allows a meaningful and independent audit and recount based on a record verified by the voters.

Voters want this transition to continue on time in 2010. The transition will save Maryland money. Please continue the transition on time so it is completed in 2010.

There are a number of factors playing in to the present difficulties for optical scan voting.  Election Commissioner Linda Lamone’s long-standing hostility to being told how to do her job properly is probably high on the list but isn’t mentioned by any of the optical scan advocates at this point.

One of the more proximate causes seems to be that a continued delay in approving a system addressing the needs of disabled voters has become an excuse for delaying a switch away from the DRE devices; in a newsletter, League of Women Voters president Lu Pierson explained:

…The problem arises because legislation passed in 2007 requires the state to purchase an optical scan voting system that meets the Voluntary Voting System Guidelines developed by the Election Assistance Commission, which include access to the voting system by disabled voters. But as of the present time, no optical scan voting system has been certified by the EAC to those Guidelines. A compromise drafted by Delegate Cardin would delete the reference from current law to the Voluntary Voting System Guidelines which would provide Maryland the opportunity to purchase a system that is not yet certified, AND allow the continued use of our current DRE machines for disabled voters. Advocates for the disabled community are split on the subject of whether to allow different voting machines for disabled voters.

In an email to a TrueVoteMD listserv, Rebecca Wilson of Save Our Votes adds some details to that story:

The sticking point about the accessible machines is that the opscan law requires them to be tested to the current standards, which means 2005 VVSG accessibility standards. The law does NOT actually say they have to be federally certified, only that they have to be tested to the 2005 VVSG standards by a testing lab accredited by the EAC. The current version of the AutoMark technically meets that standard because NY certified it for 2008 based upon testing by Systest, an EAC-accredited lab.

For those seeking details on how optical scan voting is not just more verifiable and thus better for democracy — than DRE machines, but also substantially cheaper, the best document (until she updates it) is still Ms. Wilson’s  Cost Analysis of Maryland’s Electronic Voting System, prepared in February 2008.   Key points:

Since converting to a statewide electronic touch-screen voting system, Maryland’s election costs have soared. We now spend nearly 10 times as much to conduct our elections as we did just 7 years ago.  […]

We can’t project our operating costs into the future because our maintenance contract on the touchscreen machines expires soon after the 2008 General Election. If we retain the equipment, the contract would have to be rebid at that time. The maintenance contract would likely be more expensive as the equipment ages and needs more frequent repairs or replacement. But even if the costs remain the same as our current average, we would spend another $78.5 million in Fiscal Years 2010 – 2014.  […]

Most Maryland counties that previously used optical scan voting systems saw their voting equipment costs rise dramatically when they switched to touch-screen voting machines — an average increase of 179% in the cost per voter — even though the state now pays half the cost of the voting equipment. […]

A 2005 study of Florida’s election costs after implementing the Help America Vote Act showed that counties that had switched to touch-screen voting systems had average cost increases 3 to 5 times higher than those that kept or switched to optical scan voting systems.  […]

Operating costs of the touch-screen system averaged $10.7 million per year [in Maryland] for fiscal years 2006 – 2008. Depending upon the repayment period of the capital lease and whether the cost is split with counties, as with the current voting system, the savings in operating costs may largely offset the costs of purchasing an optical scan system.

With facts like these, you’d think optical scan voting systems would be a no-brainer for the Maryland Senate leadership, too.  If they decide against it, it will be scandalously obvious that the Maryland legislative leadership thinks that spending millions more on unverifiable elections than on verifiable ones is a good thing.  It’ll work for them, I guess.

* DRE stands for “Direct Recording Electronic” (voting machine); although there should be a “voting machine” after “DRE,” the acronym itself is often used as a synonym for electronic voting machines.

3 Responses to “Optical scan vote by 2010 imperiled (again) in Maryland – UPDATE”

  1. EssentialDissent Says:

    You may be interested in this video, “Will Your Vote Count?” It is a talk by Bo Lipari:

  2. William Small Says:

    I received this reply from my representative, Virginia Clagett:

    Thank you for your thoughtful e-mail regarding keeping Maryland on track with a new voting system by 2010. Since this is not a subject for my committee, I am not as conversant with what is going on in this area until a bill reaches the floor of the House and is debated there. I did, however, look up the testimony file in Ways & Means on HB 1211 – Election Law – Delay in Replacement of Voting System.

    I was particularly interested to hear what the Maryland Association of Election Officials had to say. They “enthusiastically support” the bill because a new system coupled with other changes “could cause big problems for voters trying to cope with too much change.” They also support the bill on fiscal grounds. “We are still contractually obligated to pay on these machines through FY 14. Burdening the State and local budgets with paying for voting equipment on top of equipment, especially in light of the economic crunch, just does not make sense.”

    The Maryland Association of Counties, Inc. also supports the delay. They, too, oppose a change right now on fiscal grounds and also in light of changes that will be forthcoming in 2012 as a result of the United States Election Assistance Commission work toward new standards for voting systems. “State systems will need to comply with these standards, and accelerating the purchase of a new system only raises the obvious potential for yet another expensive system.”

    I include this material from the bill hearing so that you will be aware of what the testimony is likely to be if this bill comes to the House. I will listen very carefully since I was in favor of a new system, but I know that we have to be as prudent fiscally as we possibly can. The bottom line, however, is that there probably is not time to implement a new system for 2010 if the process is not well under way.

    Again, thanks for you input. Voting and its security are very important issues.


    Virginia P. Clagett

  3. Thomas Nephew Says:

    Thank you very much for sharing Del. Clagett’s e-mail.

    While I’m not an ‘official’ election integrity activist the way, say, Stan Boyd or Kevin Zeese are, I think you might want to get back to Del. Clagett with a note about the higher *operating* costs going forward for DRE machines compared to optical scan. With optical scan there are way fewer machines per precinct, as the email points out and as the “Cost Analysis” document linked to in the post backs up.

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