ANNAPOLIS - Robert Lanza thought voters' ballots were supposed to be secret,
which is why he was surprised to see a little "G" next to his name on his
absentee ballot return address -- for Green Party.
"Anybody handling my absentee ballot can look at my envelope and tell what my
political affiliation is," Lanza said.
Lanza and other election watchers say the party tags invite fraud because a
ballot handler who disagrees with a voter's party choice could simply throw out
his or her ballot. Maryland State Board of Elections officials maintain there is
no cause for concern. However, they have also said they might discontinue the
practice in future elections.
Lanza, of Takoma Park, is a volunteer for TrueVoteMD, a nonpartisan group
opposing the Diebold touch-screen voting machines to be used statewide in next
week's election. He said he requested an absentee ballot because he would not be
in the county on Election Day, not because he did not trust the voting machines.
Maryland switched to electronic voting systems after the 2000 election
debacle in Florida, when problems with paper ballots and lever machines led to a
contested victory margin of only 537 votes. However, the Diebold machines have
also been criticized as too easy to tamper with, and TrueVoteMD has fought for
paper records for the electronic ballots.
Maryland elections' chief Linda Lamone said Lanza's concerns with the party
tags are unfounded. She said she trusts state workers, and does not believe that
anyone would try to affect the election by illegally discarding ballots.
James Browning, executive director of Common Cause Maryland, does not share
her confidence. He said this was the first he had heard of the party affiliation
tags, but agreed with Lanza that the tags invite fraud, and could be used for
"partisan political purposes."
"That's a serious violation of voter privacy and confidentiality on the
ballot," Browning said. "State election material should be nonpartisan and
should protect the voter from having their party preferences known."
Donna Duncan, the election board's director of the election management
division, insists there is nothing insidious about the party tags. She said they
are simply an "administrative issue."
Maryland uses the same absentee envelope format in the general election as it
does in the primary election, Duncan said, and officials responsible for
stuffing ballot envelopes use a printed sheet of labels that includes each
voter's party affiliation.
"In the primary election you need to know from the sheet of labels if (the
voter needs) a Democratic ballot, a Republican ballot, a nonpartisan ballot and
basically what ballot style they need," she said. "The label is merely an
indicator to the folks that are possibly stuffing the envelopes with the ballots
as to what ballot to put in the envelope."
Duncan conceded that there were concerns over whether the process left the
Maryland voting system open to tampering.
"We have heard a handful of complaints about the party being on the outside
of the envelopes," Duncan said. "We will probably look at a number system versus
the actual abbreviation (in future elections)."
2004 University of Maryland Philip Merrill College of