The future of a system that would let voters download absentee ballots before mailing them in was cast into doubt Thursday when the State Board of Elections refused to move forward with part of the plan amid fears it would open the door to widespread fraud. The five-member panel declined to certify a system for marking the ballots on a computer screen despite assurances from its staff that the system was secure and ready to be used in this year’s June primary and November general elections. No formal tally was taken, but it was clear the approval was two votes short of the four-vote supermajority required. Both Republican members opposed the certification, and they were joined by one of the three Democrats. Opponents of the system were jubilant over the outcome. “Sanity prevailed,” said Michael Greenberger, a University of Maryland law professor and founder of its Center for Health and Homeland Security. “If this system had been adopted, Maryland would have had a voting system that was the most subject to fraud in the country.”
Though some opponents cast the board’s plan as an effort to introduce voting by Internet, that was not what was at stake. Instead, the board was being asked to certify the safety of a system authorized by the General Assembly in 2013 that would have allowed any voter at home or abroad to go online to download a ballot and fill it out on a computer before printing it and mailing it in.
Despite the assurances of two consultants that the system is safe, a majority of the board members would not give the plan their seal of approval.
Left up in the air is exactly what the decision means. The board’s staff, backed by an opinion from an assistant attorney general, interpreted it as letting the board proceed with its plan to deliver blank absentee ballots electronically to any voter who makes an online request. The voter would have to print the ballot and mark it manually before sending it in, the staff said.