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County's voting machine switches add to nationwide glitches

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Photo by Jim Davis. County Executive Rushern Baker greets voters as they stand in line at Kettering Baptist Church on Election Day.

Photo by Jim Davis. County Executive Rushern Baker greets voters as they stand in line at Kettering Baptist Church on Election Day.

Published on: Wednesday, November 07, 2012

By Dana Amihere

Several states, including North Carolina, Nevada and Ohio, have made headlines in recent weeks for problems with voting machines. Though the Free State received minimal coverage, Marylanders experienced some of the same problems while casting their ballots.

An unidentified woman who voted at the Upper Marlboro Community Center told FOX 5 WTTG-TV newscaster Beth Parker last week that when she selected President Obama’s name on her voting machine’s touchscreen, the “X” appeared under Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney’s name. The woman was able to correct her vote with the help of an election worker. Several voters in Marion County, Ohio, and Las Vegas, Nev., reported similar occurrences, though the machines defaulted to Obama instead of Romney. 

A Romney supporter, Silver Spring resident Susan Minehan, 64, finds these kinds of reports disturbing.

“A person made a decision to vote a certain way (but the machine shows a different vote). The machine can’t count intent. It can only count votes that are cast,” Minehan said.

While Minehan says that she is “not applying fault” to either campaign, she does believe that there is a software problem that needs to be addressed as glitches popped up in multiple states, including battlegrounds that make or break the race for the White House.

“The next four years might be critical. They might change my way of life, and (depending on who is elected) might make me very unhappy,” she said.

According to Maryland State Board of Elections administrator Ross Goldstein, it’s entirely possible for a machine to glitch “on occasion.” For example, the machine’s calibration may be faulty.

“It doesn’t happen often, but when it does, we shut down the machine,” Goldstein said.

“Like any computer, there are always software issues and glitches. But these computers don’t do anything but voting, so there’s a high level of confidence,” Goldstein said. “There’s (also) a lot of testing and a lot of security.”

For someone trying to tip the scales on Election Day by tampering with the software, it is not only difficult, but improbable, Goldstein said.

Voting software must meet federal regulations, and an independent lab reviews the program’s source code and tests its functions to make sure all is well before the machines are installed at polling places. As far as any Election Day mischief, such as a software bug that is time-activated, the Board of Elections conducted parallel testing Tuesday on random machines to ensure that any vote that is entered appears correctly, Goldstein said. Furthermore, he explained, the same software has been used in the past three elections.

“A problem would’ve been found by now,” he said.

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