Tuesday, November 07, 2006

The Voting Experience

Annie and I went to vote today, as I hope all of you did. Our precinct station is in Joppa, a town even smaller than our own Bertram. We drove up to a nondescript white building next to a church, where just one beat-up pickup was in the gravel driveway. We walked in next to a freshly-plowed field; I think everyone should have the smell of horse manure in their nostrils on the way to the polling place. It kind of puts the whole thing in the right context, in all kinds of ways.

We were greeted by five nice older ladies who were the precinct captains. They had a crock pot full of something yummy-smelling for later in the evening, and a table full of pens, voter rolls, and snacks. To my surprise, even our tiny little county had electronic voting machines. They were easy to use, but walking away I felt somehow uneasy. This is strange for a technophile like me to admit, but the idea of nothing but a computer chip holding my vote makes me uncomfortable. At least with a paper ballot, you know that all interested parties (including myself) can get together in a room and look at the damn thing to make sure it's what I meant to put on there. But who can sit around and check electrons?

I wish we had some kind of paper trail, it would make me feel much more at ease. After I hit the submit button, for instance, it'd be nice to have a printout showing my vote. I could initial or sign it, then put it in a traditional paper ballot box. After the election, officials from the various parties and state or local government could spot check the precincts to make sure nothing went awry with the voting machines.

Or even better, maybe it's time for the entire country to take a look at an Oregon-style "Vote By Mail" system. The evidence so far is that such systems increase voter participation and information and is easier to verify.

We need to do something, though, because like professional sports, if the participants lose faith in the honesty of the system, the whole enterprise comes crashing down. Ultimately, what keeps the rule of law in force is that all of us living under it have confidence that everything is done on the up-and-up, without deceit or corruption, that we're all operating under the same fair, objective rules. If we lose that faith, then democracy simply cannot work.

After Florida, Ohio, and the myriad of complaints about electronic voting machines already coming out this year -- from both parties -- it's clear to me that we need to figure out a different way. And I think Oregon might already have solved it for us.


snakey lady said...

Oh rats, what if Joppa had better grub than we had in my precinct...that would create total embarassment in the local voting scene and would require a re-cook. Your paper trail concern is more or less covered in all precincts of this county where the Plungettes are on stand-by, ready to serve at all times in case of a "back-up". So leave the worries to them, they don't need paper trails, they carry toilet plungers and are ready to use them! They ain't scared of paper or no paper.....

Trey McDonald said...

Being a resident of Florida and having experienced the nightmare that was the 2000 election (selection?) first hand, I have absolutely no confidence in the way votes are counted here. This has not been improved by the introduction of electronic voting machines in most of Florida's counties. W's brother Jebya is governor, which raises a few eyebrows. And, of course, don't forget Diebold's well-documented ties to the Republican party.

In 2004 Ohio's woes received by far the most attention, but problems were also numerous here in the "FLAccid member" (think about it) of the US. So, election day 2006 comes, and as I'm preparing to leave for the precinct, I notice that the HBO documentary "Hacking Democracy" is about to begin. An hour and a half later I was completely paranoid, but also heartened that there are those among us drawing investigating the problems with the voting machines.

If you haven't seen it, "Hacking Democracy" is a must - informative and fact-based, and reveals the depths of this issue that threatens the fabric of our democratic process. This affects us all, Dems and Repubs alike - I urge you to watch.

Despite all that, I still voted. I'll never know if it counted.

annie'sbuddie said...

Yup, to my surprise & dismay I walked in to our little precinct's "new location" to be confronted by the e-vote touch screen machines whose screens I was instructed not to touch.

USE THE DIAL. Damn, why couldn't they just have up/down/right/left arrows like a freakin' keyboard...or at least a joy stick or track ball.
Even those of us who are not overwhelmed by technology don't use a dial to navigate - well at least I don't.

I had been so looking forward to filling in the little bubble-circles with one of those fat #2 pencils again and then slipping my big ballot sheet in to the locked metal box with the proper side up. What a disappointing feeling of detachment this left me with.

Paul, who is the epitome of the anti-tech apparently was giving our precinct captain a good bit of grief & a fair piece of his mind as to how he felt about it all. When she started to get aggravated he asked her, "Are you being snippy with me?"

The other thing that I find upsetting about my voting experiences in general since moving to this area is the frequency that our polling station gets relocated. At least this time we received advanced notice in the mail, but sometimes it has just been a sign on the door when I showed up...then I have to try to find the alternative location which has usually been combined with another precinct because of the small turnout expected for a "minor" election. I don't consider any election minor.

Can't help but think it's a red precinct/red county/red state ploy to try to keep me from casting my blue votes.

Anonymous said...

When I got to the voting precinct, a friend of mine was working the table. She announced at the top of her voice that there was a handicapped voter here who would definitely need help in spelling her name right, so they'd better line up to help me in the booth! And, shamefully, I did need help. I agree with that stupid rolling thing -- why not go with modern technology like a joy stick or a Gameboy, something we're familiar with? And if you think your vote is secret, you are dead wrong. One of our reporters called a precinct to see why a certain bond election wasn't on the ballot in one particular precinct. The woman not only told her what the person in question had on her ballot, she also told her who this person had voted for. Your vote, dear posters, is no longer anonymous or secret. Remember -- you were given a number when you went into the cubicle. That number is recorded to coincide with your vote. We are now officially under the watchful eye of "Big Brother." This is a scary world -- your ballot can be accessed and people will know if you voted the straight Libertarian ticket if you proclaim to be a Republican and vice versa. Scary, scary, scary. And, heck, I'm a Republican!!! -- Denise