Congressman seeks answers on Md. e-voting system
BALTIMORE (AP) — A miffed U.S. congressman has sent a second letter to Maryland's governor, asking for details on the state's efforts to ensure the accuracy of electronic voting machines before the November elections.
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., said he's concerned that Gov. Robert Ehrlich never responded to his first letter, which he sent June 21.
"We've gotten no response — not a phone call, zero," Cummings said in a telephone interview Thursday. "I don't know what he's doing."
In the second letter, sent Thursday, Cummings writes that while convenient and fast, Maryland's electronic voting machines don't let people verify their e-votes with a paper printout.
"Without this paper trail in place, voters lack the assurance that their votes are being recorded as intended," the letter said.
Ehrlich said he hadn't seen or heard about either of Cummings' letters. But he pointed out Thursday that "voters have never received a receipt, ever. To some extent, the concern is new, because they were never there under the old technology."
The governor said, however, that he would consider any voting machine changes recommended by the state elections office. He also said he "shares the concerns" of those who want to guarantee the validity of the election. "It goes to the basis of a free society," Ehrlich said.
Maryland spent $55.6 million to buy Diebold-made machines for every jurisdiction except the city of Baltimore, which already had a touch-screen system.
Cummings represents Maryland's seventh district, which includes parts of Baltimore city. He says he's also planning on asking city officials about their efforts to ensure voting accuracy.
Elections officials say the state's 16,000 touch-screen voting machines performed well in the primary elections in March, and they anticipate they'll do so again in November.
After the March 2 primary — the first Maryland election to use all touch-screen machines — state officials reported scattered problems, largely blamed on human error, but declared the election a success.
Donna Duncan, the State Election Board's election management director, said Thursday that each of the state's voting machines has been tested multiple times, including a federal certification and a user-acceptance test.
"We have confidence in the accuracy and reliability of the equipment," Duncan said.
A federal law enacted after the 2000 Florida election fiasco provides billions of dollars in funding for electronic machines.
But lawmakers across the country are expressing doubts about the integrity of paperless voting terminals, which up to 50 million Americans will use in November.
Critics say they want the computerized machines set up so they produce paper records that can be kept for audits.
Ehrlich and state elections officials "have not been forthcoming in responding to citizens' concerns about the integrity of Maryland's election machines," said Mark Floegel, a spokesman for TrueMajority, an online advocacy organization that supports voter verified paper ballots. "So it's at least consistent that they're not responding to elected officials either."
Cummings said in his letter that he was worried about Maryland's system because the software could "be compromised or hacked by someone who may want to alter the voting results."
He mentioned recent studies that point to "disturbing security risks in electronic voting systems."
Cummings also said that without a physical record, election officials would be hindered from recounting votes in closely contested elections.