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Linda Lamone, the state elections director, left, and elections board member P.J. Hogan on Thursday. (The Daily Record / Bryan P. Sears)

Maryland to use paper ballots for primary voting

ANNAPOLIS — Maryland will forgo a new $28 million electronic ballot marking system and use paper ballots in April’s primary election.

(file)

(file)

State elections officials said the change, which was unanimously approved Thursday in an emergency meeting of the Maryland State Board of Elections, was necessitated because of a recently discovered complication involving races with more than seven candidates.

Display screens on the new electronic systems display longer candidate lists on more than one page and navigation between the pages is not intuitive, according to Linda Lamone, the state elections administrator.

Lamone added that the board decided to move to the change after some candidates made “not-so-subtle threats about litigation.”

State Board of Elections Vice Chairman P.J. Hogan specifically identified Anne Arundel County Circuit Judge Cathy Vitale but said there were others, though he declined to name them.

The system, which has undergone testing over the last several months, only recently revealed the issues of concern, including the splitting up of candidates running in races where there were more than seven names. Lamone said navigation buttons were not intuitive and would push voters back to previously voted races rather than the desired earlier page of candidates.

The change will require thousands of extra ballots to be printed around the state. Some jurisdictions could suffer from issues related to the use of different ballots based on the various races for which any individual voter is eligible to cast a ballot. For example, there are 50 different ballot styles in both Prince George’s County and Baltimore city. The majority of other counties have 10 or fewer ballot styles.

“We don’t want to minimize this but we don’t want to make more out of it than it is,” said Hogan.

Hogan said the board essentially had three options: to go with the system as is; have Election Systems and Software make necessary software changes; or move to paper ballots.

Going with the current system could have caused delays and created a potential for lawsuits and making software changes would require recertification by the Federal Elections Commission — a slow process that might not be completed in time for the primary.

“Out of the three, the best, most viable, reasonable solution is paper ballots,” Hogan said.

The change will not, however, affect disabled voters, who will still use the electronic ballot marking machines.

Officials acknowledged some voters may mistakenly vote in races for which they are not eligible and not in those for which they are eligible.

“It’s possible,” Lamone said.

To compensate for the change, Lamone said the state and local boards will be forced to print thousands of variations of ballots to cover every race around the state. The exact number is not yet known, nor is the approximate cost.

Lamone said costs to the state board can be absorbed within the current budget. She held out hope that the state might recover some costs from Electronic Systems and Software, the company contracted to provide the electronic ballot marking devices.

Initially, she said that local election boards would realize a savings from not having to hire additional poll workers to set up the electronic machines but later acknowledged that those savings may be offset by the need to hire additional staff to ensure correct ballots are given to each voter. It is not clear if local jurisdictions would also be able to recover any costs from the vendor.

In any case, the local boards will have to shoulder the additional costs.

“That’s the law,” Lamone said.