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Don't write off electronic ballots

October 15, 2006|by Charles L. (Jim) Mobley Jr.

This is in response to David Gysberts' letter to the editor of Sunday, Oct. 1. First, I wish to thank Gysberts for his letter and for his recollections and thoughts on the electronic poll books and on the electronic voting units. Although Gysberts, who is a chief judge in Precinct 25-4 (Western Heights Middle School), is correct about the glitches in the training modules, he failed to tell the readers that the problems experienced in the training session did not appear during the primary election and, in fact, the "instant report" functioned correctly showing the distribution of voters by party.

Several years ago, the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) was passed by Congress and became law. Among its many requirements, it mandates that all states move toward statewide voter registration systems and voting systems that will readily accommodate handicapped voters without their requiring further assistance.

Since optical scan systems do not meet that requirement, but direct recording electronic (DRE) devices do, the state of Maryland opted in 2001 to change to DRE equipment statewide and to phase out the many voting systems then in use.

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The Diebold voting units have been phased in over several election cycles starting in 2002 and ending this year. The statewide voter registration system was implemented in 2003 and upgraded in 2006 to enable the use of electronic poll books.

Thus, we are where we are today. Has it been a perfect transition? No it hasn't, and wasn't expected to be. The electronic poll books, though, have been a particularly vexing problem because of the extremely short time that we had to familiarize ourselves with them, let alone train the election judges in their use.

We at the election board are very pleased at how well the election judges and the voters have adapted to them, given the brief time for training.

It appears, Mr. Gysberts, that your biggest hang-up is the lack of a "paper" trail with the present equipment. It is not unique for voting systems to not have a "paper" trail. The old lever voting machines that were used in the county for many years had no paper trail whatsoever, and we managed to have successful elections.

The present DRE voting units do have an internal memory, by the way, which can be tapped to show a voter's choices as recorded when the ballot is cast, but without any identification as to whom the voter may have been, thus maintaining the secrecy of the ballot. Is it a true "paper" trail? Probably not, that is, until it is printed out, but the data is there and is retrievable. The only thing that a paper trail will prove is that the DRE is accurate and that can be proven other ways.

As to your suggestion that a printed receipt be generated and given to the election judge along with the voter access card, this, I believe, would violate the very secrecy of the ballot that we try so hard to protect. The receipt, as I think you envision it, would have on it for whom the voter voted and, if so, it would be exposed for anyone to see as it is being handed to the election judge. Not good, not good at all!

It all boils down to integrity and public confidence in the systems - that there is no internal or external manipulation by anyone, that the secrecy of the ballot is maintained, that it gives quick and accurate results and that it is reliable.

As president of the board of elections, I believe that we do have such a system and that we will continue to work diligently to keep it that way.

Charles L. (Jim) Mobley Jr. is president of the Washington County Board of Elections.

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