While issues like early voting, voter registration and voter ID have certainly grabbed the headlines of late, another elections issue will literally be in front thousands of voters in 2016, new voting systems. Nationwide many states and counties will have to move to new voting systems for the first time in more than a decade in advance of the 2016 election cycle. For some jurisdictions the switch to a new voting system was mandated by state legislatures that wanted to move to paper-based systems. For others, it’s a matter of age. Many states and counties replaced their voting machines following the 2002 election and in a world where people replace their phones every two years and personal computers almost as frequently, 10+-year old voting machines are, well, old. Although budgeting and procurement are certainly taking center stage now, soon enough it will be training and voter education. It’s a lot to get done with an election calendar that grows shorter as more and more states jockey for position with their elections calendars.
In Maryland, which has been using Direct Recording Electronic systems, DRE aka “touchscreen” statewide since 2006, all 23 counties and Baltimore City are now moving to a paper-based optical scan system which was legislated by the General Assembly in 2007, but not funded until 2014. The state has entered into a $28.1 million leasing agreement with ES&S that includes precinct-based scanners, ballot marking devices, high-speed scanners and personnel support. Maryland voters will see the new system for the first time at the April 26, 2016 primary.
Unlike many other states, Maryland actually moved its primary back by several weeks to avoid early voting conflicts. Even without the extra couple of week, Nikki Charlson, deputy director of the Maryland State Board of Elections said the counties and state will be ready. “Later this summer and into the fall, extensive, hand-on training will be provided to the local election officials,” Charlson said. “SBE and the local election officials will work together to educate voters. There will be a statewide contract for public education and outreach (e.g., message development, production of materials, media buys, personnel to conduct outreach events).”