Katherine Berry, the Carroll County Board of Elections director, gives a demonstration on how to use the county's new voting machines, which will be available for the 2016 elections.
Although the world is embracing e-readers and digital receipts, Maryland's new voting machines feature a piece of novel technology: pen and paper.
Starting in 2016, Carroll County and the rest of Maryland will begin using new voting machines that combine the physical security of a printed ballot with the efficiency of digital tallying. On Thursday evening the Carroll County Board of Elections showed off the machines. The general public will get chances to check out the new machines in the coming days at locations throughout the county.
In 2007, the Maryland General Assembly passed a law requiring voting machines with touch screens be replaced with verifiable paper record systems. The bill was contingent on funding in each county. According to Katherine Berry, election director for the Carroll County Board of Elections, funding was allocated last year to buy the new machines in time for the 2016 election. Berry was unable to provide cost information Thursday night.
Berry said voters might remember the general processes of the new machines from the pre-2004 voting machines.
"On Election Day, when you arrive at the polling place, you check in at the electronic poll book, you're handed a paper ballot, you mark the ballot with a black pen, and when you're finished voting, you go to the scanning unit," Berry said.
The paper is fed into a scanning unit, which takes a digital image of the paper ballot, allowing computers to make the initial count, with a paper backup in case of a recount. The original paper is dropped by the machine into a ballot box housed in its belly, to be removed at the end of the election day. The electronic count takes note of a write-in to be tallied manually by elections officials.
In addition to the new system, polling places will also be equipped with a new system for voters with disabilities. These machines will be equipped with headsets and keypads, essentially serving as an electronic device that marks the paper ballot. During early voting, when Carroll voters descend onto a single site, these machines will be all that are available. Berry said that because of the variety of paper ballots needed for each district race, it's not feasible to carry enough of each at the early voting location. The electronic machines can generate a printout for any of Carroll's races.
Bob Anderson has been a chief elections judge for about 20 years. He said he's seen voting machines evolve from flipping switches to pulling levers to tapping touch screens. He said this new system seems like an effective mix of the old and new approaches.
"All I ask is that voters be patient with us. We may not have all the answers, but we will do everything we can to help them," Anderson said. "The entire system is set up to serve them, and we hope they remember that on Election Day."
County Commissioner Richard Weaver said Thursday was his first opportunity to see the new machines and he was very impressed. At the end of the day, though, he said it's not the voting machine that matters.