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Myers says early vote too costly

March 23, 2006|by TAMELA BAKER

ANNAPOLIS

He already thought this year was too early to start early voting in Maryland, but Del. LeRoy E. Myers, R-Washington/Allegany, was sure of it Wednesday after hearing how much it would cost to lease the necessary equipment for this year's election.

Myers said leasing the optical-scan voting machines would cost $39 million and obtaining electronic poll books, for tracking voter registration to prevent fraud, would cost another $28 million, according to estimates from the vendor.

So far, Myers noted, only $21 million has been budgeted to implement early voting.

The General Assembly adopted legislation early in this year's session to allow voters to cast ballots up to five days before Election Day. The legislature had approved the measure last year, but Gov. Robert Ehrlich vetoed it. Lawmakers subsequently voted to override the veto.

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Myers is sponsoring legislation to delay implementation of early voting until 2008, which he said will give the state elections board time to certify voting systems, obtain and certify electronic poll books and train workers. More than 40 delegates - mostly Republicans - signed onto his bill as co-sponsors.

Gilles W. Burger, chairman of the Maryland State Board of Elections, favors the delay. In written testimony submitted to the House Ways and Means Committee, Burger said the Maryland Association of Election Officials voted March 7 to support Myers' bill.

"The MAEO legislative committee explained that 'without electronic poll books, early voting would be unmanageable, in terms of avoiding potential fraud,'" Burger wrote. "MAEO further documented in their March 7 minutes that state (Elections) Administrator Linda Lamone requested the local boards advise her if election judges resign due to the many new responsibilities placed upon them.

"These issues presented by career election officials paint a worrisome picture for our ability to effectively implement early voting in such a short timeframe," Burger wrote.

The state primary election is Sept. 12.

State Board of Elections member Joan Beck submitted written testimony to the committee, listing 10 reasons early voting should be delayed. The top reason she listed was security.

"Security of so many of the key components is paramount," she said. Among the problems, she said, would be finding secure locations for voting that could be used for five days, hiring election judges for special duty and finding a method to seal the machines.

"From the point of view of the local board administrators and their overburdened staffs this scenario is truly mind-boggling," Beck said.

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