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The Tangled Tentacles of the Octopus: Maryland's Voting Crisis

By Mary Howe Kiraly  Posted by Joan Brunwasser (about the submitter)     Permalink
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First the good news: voting security activists in Maryland got a powerful boost today. The New York Times took an editorial position in support of legislation in the Maryland General Assembly that would provide a paper ballot for this election cycle ( "Common Sense in Maryland, " March 23, 2006). This influential editorial could not have come at a better time.

The bad news: legislation, that would keep the state 's Diebold AccuVote TS system warehoused this year, is stalled in the (D) State Senate. This in spite of unanimous support for the bill when it was passed in the (D) House of Delegates, and strong support for the legislation from (R) Governor Robert Erlich. Governor Erlich has included funding, for the one-time lease of an optical scan system in his supplemental funding request- so funding is not the issue.

So what is wrong with this picture? The answer is Maryland 's convoluted electoral politics that begins at the door of the State Board of Elections. Upon his inauguration, Governor Erlich attempted to replace the SBE Administrator, Linda Lamone, with his own candidate. The State Legislature, controlled by Democrats, opposed him. After a court case, Ms. Lamone kept her position. Democrats had expended a good deal of political capital in this process and were not inclined to undermine Administrator Lamone once the controversy surrounding DREs, and Diebold corporate politics, emerged.

Voting activists are very familiar with the name Linda Lamone. She is the President of the National Association of State Election Directors (NASED) and the most consistent supporter of paperless DRE voting in the United States. NASED has tremendous influence over the certification process for voting systems. The entire testing and certification process appears as a closed loop: controlled by the vendors, and endorsed by the NASED. Very little information about the performance of these systems is available to voters. This is where the links between Maryland electoral politics, Diebold, and the SBE converge. Try explaining those concerns to a harried legislator who must consider 2000 pieces of legislation over a three month period! It is no wonder that the soothing platitudes, coming from Ms. Lamone, are so reassuring.

Maryland was one of only two states to vote statewide on Diebold touchscreens in 2004- Georgia was the other. The Georgia General Assembly is currently debating legislation that would require a verified paper record of the vote, jeopardizing that Diebold account. Maryland is, therefore, Diebold 's most important account, at a time when its election division is in disarray. Diebold is making its presence felt in Annapolis. It has on board a number of lobbyists who were former legislative aides to prominent Maryland politicians. There could not be more at stake for Diebold Corporation, for Ms. Lamone 's reputation, or for Maryland voters.

The very bad news: ES&S has indicated that legislation must be passed by April 1 in order for the company to guarantee delivery for the September primary.
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