[Image via all-flags-world]
UPDATE 945am Central – this post has been edited to clarify that the touchscreen devices at issue are not legacy voting machines but new ballot marking devices, which use a touchscreen interface to mark an optical scan ballot. Thanks to a commenter for the friendly correction.
Last December, I wrote about Maryland’s efforts to move on from its touchscreen voting machines to a new optical scan system. That change is supposed to take place during the state’s April 26 primary – but now the state board of elections has identified a new issue related to new ballot marking devices and thus is seeking to use hand-marked optical scan ballots for early voting as well.
The problem? Too many candidates. The Washington Post has more:
Maryland’s top election official wants to ditch [new touchscreen ballot-marking devices] in favor of paper ballots for early voting before the April primaries because the electronic machines can’t display all candidates on the same screen.
Candidates with last names further down the alphabet — including GOP presidential hopeful Donald Trump, Democratic Senate candidate Chris Van Hollen, Republican Senate contender Kathy Szeliga and Democratic House candidate David Trone — may be at a disadvantage because of the format, Elections Administrator Linda Lamone said.
In addition, it can be difficult to use the touch screens to navigate between multiple pages of candidates.
“It would cause confusion to voters, and it would take them a lot more time to vote,” Lamone said in an interview.
The State Board of Elections has called an emergency meeting for Thursday to address the problem.
The state had planned to use new touchscreen ballot-marking devices for early voting because of the ability to display ballots for multiple precincts, but the long list of candidates in several races is causing problems:
The touch-screen machines, which have special features for the visually or hearing-impaired, will still be available for those voters during the primary. They were also supposed to be used by voters who want to cast their ballots ahead of the primary, between April 14 and 21, at one of the state’s early-voting sites.
Officials wanted to use the touch screens for early voting because voters at each site come from multiple precincts, meaning as many as 50 different ballots need to be available in Prince George’s and Baltimore City for voters casting votes in multiple judicial, city council and congressional races.
But only seven candidates per race can be displayed at once on the machines. And voters attempting to toggle between different pages of candidates in one race can erroneously be sent to races higher on the ballot, Lamone said …
“The question is, what can you do about it if you see a Page 2 guy you want to vote for” but have already marked the first page of your ballot for a different candidate, said David J. McManus, the Republican chairman of the State Board of Elections.
Unfortunately, the choices facing the board are big ones, both with drawbacks – and either way, time is already growing short:
The alternatives before the board Thursday aren’t easy fixes. Changing the touch-screen [devices] to show all candidates on a single screen probably would require significant programming that would trigger a lengthy recertification process, McManus said.
And if state officials opt for paper ballots, as Lamone is recommending, election boards would have to scramble to have all the permutations of possible ballots available.
“What’s the trade-off: Are you having voters not able to navigate their ballot quickly and therefore causing long lines? Or do you have voters not able to find their candidates?” Lamone asked.
No matter what, everyone – election officials, candidates and the media – is going to have to do their part to explain to voters how to navigate their ballots, whether printed or onscreen. That’s always important, but never more so in an election year where open seats and policy fights mean lots of candidates running for a small number of offices.
Stay tuned …