Paper Ballot

The state of Maryland has incorporated paper ballots in its election process. The new system has received mixed reviews from state officials and residents.

Most objections to the use of paper ballots in Maryland elections prior to the primaries were reversed by positive voting experiences at the polling precincts, according to State and Prince George’s County election officials.

“People were shocked that we were required to use paper ballots, but when they actually saw how easy it was, they were pretty pleased,” said Prince George’s County Elections Administrator Alisha Alexander. “This is based on the comments that we’ve received not only verbally, but in writing.”

However, some voters told the AFRO the opposite about their satisfaction over the paper ballots system. An early voter, in her 60s, walked out of the polling place at the Wayne K. Curry Sports and Learning Complex with a stunned expression over the paper ballots. “It’s like we’re back in the 1950’s,” she said.

Baltimore voter Amani Warren remained neutral in the touch screen versus paper ballot debate but was dissatisfied with her polling place. “The paper ballot was simple to fill out, but there were a lot of steps – getting the ballot, filling it out, scanning it – but the process was smooth,” said Warren, who voted on April 26. “My polling place opened an hour and a half late because they were having technical difficulties with the scanner, and that was frustrating. I think polling places should have done a run through the day before.”

Alexander said Prince George’s County poll workers will be retrained before the November election to reacclimate them with procedures to open and close the voting equipment.

At the state level, State Board of Elections Department Administrator Nikki Charlson said some adjustments for the fall will be made. “We always look at what we can do better,” Charlson said. “We will start that process once we finalize counting ballots.”

Trained poll workers gave voters instructions on how to complete the ballots. Once voters completed their ballot, they were shown how to insert the ballot into an electronic scanner for their votes to be counted. One out of 245 polling places in the county reported a problem with a scanner on April 26 during the Maryland Democratic Presidential Primary and local elections race, and one out of the eight polling places reported an issue with a scanner on one of the eight early voting days, both of which Alexander said are good odds.

If a voter exceeds the maximum number of votes allowed in each category, the electronic scanner rejects the ballot, which Alexander said occurred in at least one polling place. The voter then has to spoil the ballot by filling in every blank vote and writing “spoil” in large print across the bottom of the ballot. A new ballot is issued.

The touch screen voting machines had built-in memory in case of a malfunction, but advocate groups believed a physical piece of paper should be used to verify every vote. “We are very optimistic about the reliability of the equipment,” Alexander said. “It’s just a paper back up, so if the voting unit fails you have those physical ballots that you can rerun. That was the whole intent.”