. Revealing Maryland | Open Voting Consortium

Revealing Maryland

Sept 20, Annapolis, MD

Today I attended an incredible meeting [1] in the State House here in Maryland. In essence, the Governor of Maryland, Bob Ehrlich, had asked Linda Lamone (State Board of Elections Administrator) to appear before the Board of Public Works [2] to talk about the primary election fiasco. The meeting was a circus, with Ms. Lamone and Comptroller Schaefer giving the media more zingers than they could possibly process.

Lamone went through the litany of problems from last Tuesday: polls not opened on time, missing equipment, malfunctioning equipment, poll workers not showing up, etc. The new electronic poll books (Diebold) did not work correctly.

In a presentation last year, Lamone said "I am the boss. The buck stops with me. I'm the one that gets in trouble when anything happens." [3]

However, it's not so clear that Lamone was accepting responsibility for these problems. She would say things like, "I don't want to point fingers." Schaefer would then say, "I want to point fingers. I want to know who did this." Over and over Schaefer asked who was responsible. At one point he asked, "who did this?" Lamone answered, "the General Assembly." What she didn't say is that the General Assembly (they have a House of Delegates and a Senate) pretty much did everything she asked.

Not that this is a partisan issue -- nor should it be -- but when we see people critical of Diebold they tend to be on the left politically. In Maryland, the Republican Governor is highly critical of Diebold, while Diebold defenders are Democrats!

A bill this year that would have required paper ballots (the Diebold machines in MD are paperless) passed the House unanimously. Sheila Hixson, whom I met with on Monday, carried this bill. It was killed in the Senate (Democrats in charge).

It seems Diebold has their best sales people working Maryland. The electronic poll books were thought necessary when Maryland officials decided to enable early voting. But then the courts ruled against early voting. Diebold still got the e-poll books sold there, bugs and all.

Avi Rubin was also invited to testify. Avi began working at the polls in 2004. He was a highly credible witness and detailed how the electronic poll books would not remained synchronized for long (they're supposed to be able to indicate if someone has already voted ... that is, if the poll worker checks you in using one e-poll book, the other e-poll books are supposed to know so you can't go and check in elsewhere ... pretty basic database stuff that the new system couldn't handle). Avi also described the Princeton University hack where votes could be switched without detection.

Planning for my trip to Maryland has been in the works for some weeks now. I wanted to talk with officials in Maryland about a proposal to convert their paperless touch screen voting machines into ballot printers (like OVC demo), and to find out if we can get a legislator to carry a bill similar to our AB 2097, which would require full public disclosure of all voting technology. The primary election problems (primary was one week ago) became an added attraction -- and an added incentive to act.

I've already met with a few legislators and staff, as well as senior staff for the Governor and the Governor's November challenger, Martin O'Malley, Mayor of Baltimore.

I arrived 15 minutes early figuring that would be plenty of time. There were about 20 people waiting to get in. I was informed that the room was full and no one else could go in at this point. Joe Getty of the Governor's staff had suggested that I attend, so it occurred to me to mention that to the guard. He asked my name, and he said, "I'll ask." That worked, as Mr. Getty was just arriving.

The setting seemed anachronistic. It was held in the Governor's Reception room -- maybe 30 ft by 40 ft with high ceilings (maybe 20 ft) with Victorian woodwork and light fixtures. It was packed wall-to-wall with people. I counted 10 television cameras.

Governor Ehrlich was personable and careful. Even though he has sharp differences with Linda Lamone, he was polite and respectful.

The 84 year old Schaefer acted like a cranky old coot. He didn't care -- didn't have to. He spoke well of Treasurer Kopp, but derided most everyone else. At one point, he mimicked Governor Ehrlich shuffling papers. I could not believe what I was seeing. He is a few weeks away from the end of a long political career [4]. He was governor for 8 years and has been a major figure in Maryland politics for longer than most of the people there have lived. Before the meeting, I didn't know Schaefer had been Governor. Lamone addressed him as "Governor." I thought she had just misspoke. But after she said that several times, I guessed that there was something to it. I looked him up after the meeting and learned of his background. What a character!

Maryland is at the far end (the dark one) of the spectrum when it comes to transparent verifiable elections. I have more meetings with officials in the works, and I will talk with a group of activists tomorrow evening. I think everyone is understanding that Maryland must transition away from paperless Direct Record Electronic (DRE) voting machines. I think they can also go for the completely public (open source) software.

How all of this happens remains to be seen. My visit here just might help things along a little bit.

Alan Dechert
[1] Here's the Sept 20 agenda, although I don't see the elections issues on it. http://www.bpw.state.md.us/pdf/9-20-06.pdf
[2] As I understand it, this is a statutory board that meets from time-to-time to review contracts with the state. The board consists of the Governor, the Comptroller, and the Treasurer. http://www.bpw.state.md.us/
[3] see http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=murESYdoQjU
[4] see http://www.mdarchives.state.md.us/msa/mdmanual/08conoff/html/msa01489.html and http://news.findlaw.com/ap/p/618/09-13-2006/96340034c1827bc9.html

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