By MEGHA RAJAGOPALAN
Capital News Service
New Maryland law allows voters to cast absentee ballots without giving a reason
ROCKVILLE - Saying he had no confidence in electronic voting machines, Montgomery County Executive Doug Duncan Tuesday urged voters to cast absentee ballots instead of going to the polls.
"This is inexcusable," Duncan said at a press conference. "We keep getting these machines that aren't working from the state, and we can't get it together at the county."
Duncan, who said he plans to cast an absentee ballot himself, joins gubernatorial candidates Maryland Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich and Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley in the suggestion. Both candidates have expressed doubts about touch-screen voting machines made by Diebold Election Systems Inc. that are used in polls throughout the state.
The Maryland Republican Party, based in Annapolis, also recently sent out a mailer urging the recipient to vote by absentee ballot. The mailer included two absentee ballot application forms.
Until this year, only people who were unable to go to the polls could vote by absentee ballot. But a new law allows voters to cast absentee ballots without giving a reason.
The push toward absentee ballots comes after computer glitches and human errors in Montgomery County polls kept some voters from casting ballots during the Sept. 12 primary election.
Election officials have said widespread use of absentee ballots could delay election results.
Nancy H. Dacek, president of the Montgomery County Board of Elections, said Tuesday she had complete confidence in the Diebold voting machines. She said the most significant problem in Montgomery County during the primary was not computer glitches, but a human error that left polls without the electronic cards necessary to access machines.
"Except for one other occasion, we've had very smooth elections and we expect this one to be a very smooth election too," she said. "Nobody can guarantee perfection, but I don't see that there will be any problems."
Dacek urged voters to go to the polls as they normally would unless they have a reason to vote by absentee ballot. The board is prepared for absentee ballots, she said, but a flood of them could take days to count.
Duncan said accuracy in counting the votes is more important than delays absentee ballots could cause.
"Human error is when you have one or two polling places miss something," Duncan said. "When every polling place misses something, that's gross incompetence."
The problems, which included flaws in the voting machines, misplaced electronic cards and absent poll judges, forced morning voters to use paper ballots. When polls ran out of the provisional ballots, voters were turned away and polls had to stay open an extra hour to compensate.
Last month, Diebold said it fixed a design flaw that made the machines freeze repeatedly on the day of the primary.
Linda Lamone, state elections administrator, said in a statement last week that kinks in the Diebold machines are worked out and the machines will work smoothly during general elections.
Duncan said, however, he wouldn't be fully confident in the computers until those he believes are responsible for primary mishaps are held accountable.
"I don't think things are really going to change until they get new leadership," Duncan said. "The administrator [Dacek] is in over her head, and I think that's true at the state level as well."
Duncan last month called for Ehrlich to fire Dacek, president of Montgomery County's Board of Elections. He also requested Margaret Jurgenson, the county's election director, be removed from her post.
Samuel Statland, the secretary of the Montgomery County board of elections, said Duncan's response was justified. "We made an egregious error in the primary," he said. "But we've worked our tails off correcting it."
More information about Absentee Voting from the Maryland State Board of Elections
Downloadable Absentee Ballot Application in Adobe Acrobat format
The deadline to request an absentee ballot for the 2006 General Election is:
* If the application is mailed, 4:30 p.m. on October 31, 2006; or
* If the application is faxed, 11:59 p.m. on October 31, 2006.
After the deadline, a Late Application for Absentee Ballot must be completed in person at the board of elections.
Blowing the Whistle on Diebold
On July 13, the Pensacola, Fla.-based law firm of Robert F. Kennedy Jr. filed a qui tam lawsuit in U.S. District Court, alleging that Diebold and other electronic voting machine (EVM) companies fraudulently represented to state election boards and the federal government that their products were unhackable.