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GOP calls for investigation of voting machines after errors are reported

Are Republican votes being "flipped" to Democrats?

The Maryland Republican Party is calling on the state Board of Elections to investigate reports that voting machines are switching ballots cast for GOP candidates to their Democratic rivals.

The state party said Tuesday that it has received complaints from about 50 voters in 12 Maryland counties who say machines at early voting centers "flipped" their Republican votes to count toward Democratic candidates.

"No matter what the reason, steps must be taken to protect the integrity of this election," said state GOP Chair Diana Waterman.

Marsha Epstein of Pikesville said she ran into the problem when she went to vote at the Reisterstown Senior Center's Hannah More campus. She said she tried to vote for Republican Larry Hogan for governor but the machine recorded a vote for Democrat Anthony G. Brown.

Epstein said she pointed out the problem to an election judge, who told her to try again.

"I had to do it three times to keep it on Hogan," Epstein said. She said she had no problems voting in the other races on the ballot. Voters from Howard and Harford counties called The Baltimore Sun to report similar problems.

William Childers of Havre de Grace said something similar happened to him when he cast his ballot Sunday at the Higher Education and Technology Center in Aberdeen. He said his vote for Hogan registered without a problem but when he tried to vote to re-elect Republican Rep. Andy Harris, that line lit up temporarily but then switched to Democratic challenger Bill Tilghman.

"My concern is if you're not alert, you would think you were voting Republican but you're voting for a Democrat," Childers said.

Maryland Democratic Party spokesman Jared Smith and Brown campaign manager Justin Schall said they were not aware of any similar concerns being raised by voters on their side.

Joe Cluster, executive director of the state Republican Party, said he believes he knows the reason the vote-switching reports are only coming from Republicans. He said it's not a matter of fraud, but of ballot position. The Democrat in each race is listed above the Republican, he noted. His theory is the when the mistake crops up, it's more likely to penalize the bottom candidate.

"The mistake happens on the upside rather than the downside," Cluster said.

State elections board officials said they had received reports that fewer than 20 machines statewide had displayed votes for candidates other than the ones the voters selected. Deputy administrator Nikki Baines Charlson said 12 had been tested and no problems had been found.

"These units are back in service because they couldn't replicate it no matter how hard they tried," Charlson said.

Another five were not tested because there was only one reported problem, she said. In three cases, Charlson said, machines were removed from service because of calibration problems — the place a voter touched did not line up with their intended votes.

Charlson said all the state's machines had been tested before the election. She said election officials hear such complaints after every election, but voter error has been shown to be the reason for any faulty ballots.

"This number isn't any larger than normal," she said.

According to the board, voters with long nails or large fingers, as well as those who hold the touch screen with their palms on the screen, appear to be reporting such problems more than others. The board advises voters to use the tips of their fingers when voting and to alert an election judge before casting a final ballot if they have problems.

Charlson said the current touch-screen machines will be retired after this election and replaced with an optical reader system for the 2016 election. Such systems, unlike touch screens, create a written record.

Michael.dresser@baltsun.com

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