Takoma Park voters who use an absentee ballot this November will have to mail or deliver their paper ballot because the Board of Elections (BoE) decided not to accept online voting as an alternative to for filing a paper absentee ballot. However, the BoE opted to maintain the online system to confirm a paper absentee ballot has been recorded.
At its meeting Wednesday evening, the BoE passed a resolution directing paper absentee ballots have to be cast in order for the vote to be counted. That resolution is: “That the ballot of record for absentee ballots is the paper ballot, and we will not accept only the electronic record as a ballot vote.”
The need for the resolution was the result of the language for the Internet Confirmation Guidelines for absentee voters produced by Scantegrity, a security system for optical scan voting systems that uses confirmation codes to allow a voter to ensure their ballot has not been changed and is included in the final tally, and presented to the BoE by Filip Zagorski. The confirmation guidelines for the absentee ballot are listed under the heading “Internet Confirmation.”
The instructions read:
“The passwords on this card allow you to post the confirmation numbers on your ballot to the verification website. By doing this you ensure that, even if your ballot were to be lost in the mail, you vote would still be recorded correctly.”
“We have to change that first paragraph, because if we keep that first paragraph as is, it’s saying even if your ballot were to be lost in the mail, your vote would still be recorded correctly,” BoE member Jim Roberts said. “That allows voters to vote electronically without having a paper record,” he added.
BoE member Bill Lawson said the language on the instructions says if an absentee ballot is not received by the BoE, but if the voter records the “numbers online, we will (the BoE) count that; that’s where it becomes Internet voting.” Lawson asked if the board needs change its bylaws or get a resolution passed by the city council to allow Internet voting.
Jessie Carpenter, city clerk, said she posed the question to the city attorney, but she did not pursue it because she did not believe the board was going to support Internet voting. “I don’t have an answer,” she said.
Roberts said, the legal question is what is the ballot of record? “Is the ballot of record a piece of paper, or is the ballot of record some information stored in a computer,” he said. “Those seem like non-important questions, but it is a question of when we make this decision we’re saying the ballot of record is not the piece of paper, it’s a piece of information stored in the computer. I’m not a big fan of Internet voting, but even so, we need to really think this through, rather than just let this in the back door.”