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The Fallacy of Voter Fraud Plays Out in Maryland's Primary: A Work of Science Fiction?

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Message Mary Howe Kiraly
On September 13, the day after Maryland's disastrous Primary Election, Michael Waldman, Executive Director of the Brennan Center, addressed a group of reporters at the Press Club in Washington. He used a Powerpoint presentation to document five new areas of vote suppression that reporters can expect to see functioning during the 2006 elections. Mr. Waldman encouraged the press to investigate and report on these vote suppression efforts because they keep fully qualified voters from voting. (I will be providing a full summary of my notes from that presentation in another article.)

Mr. Waldman also described the environment in which state agencies, and election workers, perceive- and then attempt to counter- false claims of voter fraud. There has never been documentation of a broad-based effort at voter fraud in the United States; yet states have legislated strident measures to counter this perceived threat. These measures make it increasingly difficult for many qualified voters to cast ballots. In every recent election cycle, in the months from August to October, fears and accusations of "voter fraud" emerge, then disappear immediately after the election.

I bring up the Brennan Center report here in the context of the recent debacle in the Primary Election in Maryland, especially as it unfolded in Montgomery County, a suburb of Washington D.C. Maryland voters use the paperless Diebold AccuVote TS touchscreen voting system statewide.

In the 2006 Maryland Legislative Session, which ended in April, Republican Governor Robert Ehrlich supported leasing an optical scan system to replace paperless Diebold voting. The Maryland House of Delegates, with a large Democratic majority, voted unanimously to provide an optical scan system this fall. However, the Democratic leadership, which controlled the State Senate, declined to implement optical scan voting.

The Senate leadership had a long-held goal of implementing five days of Early Voting in Maryland. The Republicans in the Legislature, determined to prevent Early Voting which they believed favored Democratic constituencies, claimed that it would encourage voter fraud. In an effort to quell Republican concerns, State Elections Administrator Linda Lamone offered the Legislature yet another Diebold product: E-Poll Books, tied to the statewide voter registration database, for voter check in. The Legislature adopted this suggestion and reallocated the millions of dollars, provided by the Governor for leasing optical scan, to the purchase of Diebold E-Poll Books.

In a sad irony for Maryland voters, the legislation which enacted Early Voting was ruled unconstitutional by a Maryland court this summer. But the Diebold E-Poll Books became an integral part of the Maryland election system. In the Primary in Montgomery County, it was the Board of Election's failure to distribute the smart cards, used with the e-poll books, before the polls opened that morning that began the cascading series of problems that characterized the Primary Election, September 12.

Not only did the smart cards fail to arrive on time; but when they did arrive, the cards often malfunctioned. Repeated efforts, with multiple smart cards, were often necessary to produce a single successful voter check in. At one polling station, a volunteer told me of an instance in which fourteen tries, with fourteen different cards, were necessary for one voter. Adding further to the frustration, some voters reported that when they placed their programmed smart cards in the voting machines, the machines indicated that the voter had already voted! Here we see the Diebold E-Poll Book "creating" the self-perpetuating realization of that dire threat: voter fraud. Could someone get Arthur C. Clarke on the phone, please? I believe that voting in Maryland has entered the realm of science fiction.
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Mary Howe Kiraly is a voting activist living in Maryland.
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