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Reality Check: reporting from Maryland

By Mary Howe Kiraly  Posted by Joan Brunwasser (about the submitter)     Permalink
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Reality Check

Mary Howe Kiraly in Maryland

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For voting integrity activists in Maryland, the 2006 Legislative Session ended as a disappointment and a reality check. We began the session believing that, if we could pass a paper ballot bill in the House of Delegates, this legislation was a certainty in the State Senate (where similar legislation had 23 of 47 Senators on board as co-sponsors). How wrong we were.

The dream bill, which included leasing optical scan for the fall, passed the House unanimously. The Governor changed positions and supported a paper ballot, backing up that support with a funding request. Then the legislation moved to the "friendly " Senate, where it languished, never to move to a floor vote before the session ended.

What happened? We cannot say for certain but here are some facts that can be assembled a number of ways, depending on one 's degree of cynicism.

Fact One: The Diebold Corporate Component. Diebold had a strong presence in Annapolis. Their lobbyist is the former aide to the (D) Senate President. Their PR person is a former staffer for (D) U.S. Senator Barbara Mikulski, as strong a political personality as Maryland has produced. Diebold 's election division, as we know, is in financial disarray. Maryland got out in front of the nation in 2002, investing between $90-100 million in the Diebold AccuVote TS system. Maryland would be the only state to will vote entirely on Diebold paperless touchscreen machines in 2006. Linda Lamone, the Administrator of the State Board of Elections, and the President of NASED, has become a national spokesperson for Diebold DREs. So the corporation and the head of the Board of Elections had a great deal of prestige- and corporate and political capital- at stake in Annapolis in 2006.

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Face Two: The Democrat 's Legislative Agenda. Democratic leaders in the Legislature had, as their primary election focus, the implementation of an early voting system. They had passed legislation in 2005, which the Governor vetoed. Early in the 2006 session, that veto was overridden. Early voting will be in place in Maryland, at locations specifically designated by the Legislature in each county. Objectively, early voting will benefit shift workers, voters with multiple jobs and long hours, who have trouble getting to the polls during voting hours. Subjectively, the polling stations have been placed in locations and communities to maximize turnout for Democratic voters and candidates. Republicans are furious and anticipating the fulfillment of that old adage: vote early and vote often.

It has become crucial that the implementation of a statewide registry, required by HAVA, be in place and functioning well to allay Republican fears on this issue. (Democrats have a 2:1 advantage in voter registration, over Republicans in Maryland.) Here Diebold Corporation enters the fray. Not only did the 2006 Legislative Session end up protecting the corporate account for voting machines, it added additional millions of dollars to corporate coffers in the purchase of Diebold Poll Books for voter check in. The coordination between the current Sabre registration database and the Diebold software for poll books is already proving to be an interesting distraction for the various county boards of elections.

Following a county BoE meeting recently, it was reported that five directors of county Boards had recently resigned. During testimony on the bill that would have leased optical scan for the fall election, a number of county administrators testified that the local Boards were already overwhelmed by the statewide registration requirement and early voting- and could not possibly accommodate another change for 2006. It was a refrain often repeated by Democratic State Senators. They refused to support Republican efforts to add paper ballot legislation, as an amendment, to another election bill on the Senate floor.

Fact Three: The DNC and Efforts to Secure the Vote. Annapolis is a short drive from the nation 's capital. If the DNC, headquartered in Washington, really wanted to make voting security a top legislative priority, Annapolis was the place to make it happen. In spite of information that DNC Chair Howard Dean had told the heads of the state parties, some months ago, to "Get this legislation done, " it didn 't happen in (what should be) one of the Party 's most dependably Democratic states. Why is that?

Probably because the Democratic leadership at every level is extremely concerned that any discussion, about flaws in the voting system, will itself depress Democratic turnout. So Maryland Party officials and legislators- like Democrats all across the country- are incredibly ill informed about the degree to which their votes are jeopardized by e-voting, and by the whole range of efforts to suppress the Democratic vote.

In Maryland, Republicans who are in the minority, really do "get " the implications of having a paperless voting system, and an election process, controlled by the political opposition. They came out uniformly and strongly in support of paper ballots. Democrats, secure that they could overwhelm Republicans with turnout, and protective of Administrator Lamone, could not have been less interested in the corporate failures and shenanigans of the Diebold Corporation. Perhaps you are aware of the Maryland motto: America in miniature.

It is time for Democrats to check their clocks. They may be about to undergo the regular two year clock-cleaning process.

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Mary Howe Kiraly is a voting activist and can be reached at mhowekiraly@yahoo.com.

 

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