Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Resistance is Futile

Polls just closed here, NPR is calling a few things, and I'm not even going to pretend to have any idea what's going to happen, though certainly "Dollar Bill" Jefferson had the money to litter our already too-littered little city with signs.

That said, I do want to pass along my voting story. First off, I should mention that ever since I've been voting in New Orleans, we have always had electronic voting machines, and I've never had trouble before. That "before" pretty much gives the story away, doesn't it?

Here's how the machines here work: the whole ballot appears before you, not on a screen, but on a big piece of paper over, well, I don't know exactly what, but when you touch the little box next to a candidate, a green "X" lights beneath the paper that can be easily seen through it. You hit everything you want, check to make sure your little Xs are all in the right places, and hit the big orange vote button. The machine makes some distinctive clicks, a little read-out at the bottom says "Vote registered," and your little Xs go out.

In I go and stab all my little boxes (a congressional race and a bunch of amendments), and the little Xs came on, but when I looked back, no Xs. Huh. I punched the first one (congress) again and the light came on for a couple of seconds and then went out. Same with all the others. My votes wouldn't stay lit.

So out the curtain I go and tell the poll worker. Happily, professorial scheduling allows me to vote in the middle of the afternoon, not to mention the fact that New Orleans has a third of its usual population, so the poll workers weren't exactly overwhelmed. The poll worker asked me if the upper light was on, to which I responded, eloquently, "Huh?" She pulled the curtain back and pointed at a white light up at the top of the machine and asked if it was on. I admitted that I hadn't actually paid attention.

She did something behind the machine, and it made that distinctive "vote registered" click. The light she pointed out went on, and little Xs lit up all over the board, above all the various choices. This time, when I stabbed my boxes, the Xs above the choices went out, and my Xs stayed on. I hit the big orange vote button, got the clicks, saw "vote registered," and went on my merry way, full of fervor for democracy.

Okay, actually not. While I'm pretty sure my vote registered, I'm wondering about the person before me, and I'm wondering about that distinctive clicking after I'd stabbed a bunch of boxes. Did the person before get their vote registered? Did I get to vote twice? Was it just a minor glitch, and everything's hunky-doory? I don't know, and that's perhaps even more disturbing than the possibility that the voting could have been fucked up. It's one thing to have a fucked up vote that we then spend days or weeks or months arguing about, fighting about, going to court about, etc. That's bad enough, but how about a fucked up vote that we don't even know to fight about? Without a paper trail, without anything to check the machines against, there's no way to look for mistakes. And machines ain't so great at noticing their own mistakes.

Perhaps I jinxed myself, but like I said yesterday "trust the machines ... the machines know what's best ... obey the machines ... "


Sophmom said...

Yeah, it's pretty scary and there's a really simple solution. We should vote electronically and each machine should print out a paper "receipt" recording each voter's choices. The voter has the opportunity to review the receipt and all the receipts are collected by the poll workers as the voters leave. That way, we have a paper back-up to use in the case of extra close races or suspected irregularities. It really needs doing before 2008.

It's good to see you writing so much, Dale. I hope all is well with you and yours.

Sophmom said...

Happy Thanksgiving, darlin'. Have fun and be safe.

Anonymous said...

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