How safe is your vote?

Touch-screen machines give state's voters the most reliable system available

January 07, 2004|By Gilles W. Burger

I WANT TO assure Maryland's voters that they can have confidence and trust in the state's electoral process.

Our touch-screen voting systems are the most accurate in use. They eliminate questions of voter intent, prohibit over-votes, allow all voters - including blind and visually impaired voters - to vote using a secret ballot and are adaptable to accommodate the needs of Maryland's diverse society.

After much analysis, we firmly believe the Diebold Election Systems machine is the most reliable of the touch-screen units on the market. Our work tailoring the Diebold unit to Maryland's election environment is now 2 1/2 years strong.

Today's electronic voting system captures more votes and tallies votes more accurately than any other voting system. For example, in my home county, Montgomery, there were 2,565 over-votes in the 2000 presidential election using the older Datavote punch-card system. Those 2,565 Montgomery County voters arrived at the polls, voted and walked away unknowingly disenfranchised.

In 2001, our bipartisan board unanimously determined that the time had come to correct this and other historical vote-accuracy problems. Unlike any other voting system used today, our machines provide the most accurate vote counts for Maryland's 2.75 million registered voters and, now, with our most recent improvements, the most secure voting environment.

Various critical academic studies fail to consider the extent of validation and verification Maryland applies to its election process.

Each voting system undergoes rigorous testing performed both by a federally certified independent testing authority and by Maryland officials. Additionally, each and every voting unit is tested by a vendor independent of the manufacturer before we accept it for use in Maryland - no exceptions.

Just as important, our elections officials test each voting unit just before an election to ensure that it records and tabulates votes accurately. We conduct a post-election test to verify the accuracy. We also keep a log of every electronic event that each machine undergoes before, during and after the election. These are just some of Maryland's safeguards to the integrity of our voting machines. They are enforced by both Maryland's election law and the Code of Maryland Regulations.

Unlike most past academic studies, a recent analysis performed by Science International Applications Corp. incorporated Maryland's policies and procedures governing an election. No voting system in the United States had ever been subject to such a comprehensive risk analysis. Our resulting action plan will be totally completed in time for the next statewide election in March.

The state's Board of Elections is not planning to implement a voter-verifiable paper trail at this point. There are no federal voting system standards for this function that exist from which to test. This is important because there are countless variations on how a printer system can interact with both the voting system and the voter. The nature of that interaction has a distinct bearing on our ability to ensure voting accuracy. We are confident in the independence of our electronic auditing capability. We have redundant, separately recorded devices from which each recorded vote is stored.

Over the next several years, the board will participate in emerging discussions on voter-verifiability enhancements to the touch-screen machines. In the meantime, we are committed to our statewide rollout plan for replacing older, less-accurate voting machines with the most accurate voting machines on the market.

Today's commentary about the touch-screen voting system strikes a dramatic parallel to the debate during the 1930s when paper ballots were replaced with lever machines and during the 1970s when punch-card voting systems were implemented. Hypothetical scenarios were publicized, and voters' confidence in the electoral process was challenged. History has proved those fears to be unfounded. Our new machines have a proven record; we have successfully conducted two elections in four counties and in a host of Maryland cities.

Gilles W. Burger is chairman of the Maryland State Board of Elections.

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