April 04, 2020

Protecting Maine’s Vote

Everyone knows how Florida’s defective paper-ballot voting machines threw the 2000 presidential election into limbo for weeks. But election officials have not agreed what to do about it. The paperless, touch-screen machines being pushed by manufacturers can mess up, too, and they make recounts difficult if not impossible by providing no paper trail.

Florida’s own new machines misfired this month. In Bay County, early primary results showed Richard Gephardt, who had backed out of the presidential race two months earlier, beating John Kerry by an incredible 2-to-1. A recount was possible there, since those machines used paper ballots fed into an optical scanner. But 15 other Florida counties have adopted touch-screen machines that do not produce a paper record. Some have already malfunctioned in local elections. Florida could give us another election hang-up in November.

Paperless voting machines and those that transmit results over the Internet are vulnerable to glitches and manipulation by hackers. Yet election officials in many states are tempted by a slick technology. Across the country, 50 million voters are expected to use electronic voting systems this year.

Fortunately, Maine so far is sticking mostly to its system of paper ballots fed into optical scanners. A bill pending in the Legislature, LD 1759, sponsored by Rep. Hannah Pingree, D-North Haven, would keep things that way. It is scheduled to go before the Legal and Veterans Affairs Committee in a working session at 1 p.m. today.

Rep. Pingree has reached a compromise with Secretary of State Dan Gwadosky, who originally felt that no such bill was necessary. The measure, An Act To Assure the Accurate Counting of Votes, would ban Internet voting, networked voting machines and any electronic voting machines that don’t provide a voter-verifiable paper trail.

The compromise involved a federal requirement that every polling place have one machine dedicated for blind or sight-impaired people. Organizations of the blind and visually impaired insist that they be able to vote independently of any assistance, and no such machines yet exist that provide a paper trail. So the compromise language exempts for the present those “disability compliant” voting machines from the requirement for a voter-verified paper trail. The bill provides for future legislative scrutiny to make sure that Maine keeps up with technology, protects the interests of the blind and continues to provide for paper-based recounts if necessary.

Rep. Pingree received word Saturday that the Maine chapter of the American Council of the Blind had voted to support the amended bill, saying “only that they are anxious to vote independently but that they want to know that their votes are counted.”

All parties deserve congratulations for reaching agreement, and LD 1759 deserves a fair hearing and prompt enactment. Maine’s voters deserve no less.

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