Funding election infrastructure is a popular theme this week. On Monday, Virginia Governor McAuliffe announced a plan to spend $28 million to upgrade voting machines and technology. Yesterday, the Maryland Board of Public Works approved a $28 million contract to replace the state’s current touch-screen voting system with machines that scan paper ballots, which voters will mark with a pen or pencil.
The contract comes more than seven years after the legislature decided the state should replace tens of thousands of touch screens deemed unreliable and susceptible to fraud. Since then, debates and budget challenges have delayed efforts to replace the machines with a system that has a verifiable paper record. Nikki Baines Charlson, deputy administrator for the State Board of Elections, said this is the first time the state has both enough money and a qualified vendor to do the project. The state will pay about $14 million, and local governments will cover the remainder of the $28 million project.
Maryland was among the first states to abandon paper balloting after the 2000 presidential election, when butterfly ballots and “hanging chads” in Florida threw the results of the contest into doubt for weeks. Maryland spent $65 million in 2002 to buy its electronic machines, but technical issues left many unhappy. Glitches, particularly in the electronic poll books, plagued the 2006 primary election and led many leaders to urge voters to cast paper absentee ballots instead. While most of the technical problems have been worked out in recent years, some resurfaced during early voting in 2014.
The new system is expected to be in place for the 2016 presidential election.