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Circle Game

Posted on 11 November 2011

We don’t know about you, but we really miss our old lever voting machines.

The thought occurred to several us as we were standing in our respective voting stations on Tuesday, handling an oversized sheet of paper with a whole slew of candidates names on it. We dutifully filled out our ballots with a silly black marker, which was well on its way to drying out and attached to the so called “booth” by a string.

We call it this because the actual contraption behind which we now vote is a flimsy looking table with little walls on three sides. It kind of reminds us of a urinal — even those of us who are female. Then there’s the guy standing by the optical reader waiting for us to feed our completed ballot sheet into the machine (Face up? Face down? Makes no difference, they say, but face up, and the poll worker has just caught sight of everyone you voted for – and, depending on his political leanings, may use it against you next time he’s driving down Main Street and spots you in the crosswalk).

They call this progress? It strikes us as archaic — filling out little dots like we’re back in grade school taking a standardized test. Not only is it kind of demeaning, but the whole thing seems shockingly public and hardly gives one a sense of privacy.

This abandonment of our beloved lever machines came about thanks to the Help America Vote Act of 2002 (“HAVA”). The law was ostensibly devised to improve the voting process for Americans with disabilities, but there are many who feel its origins were really designed to computerize an analog process by sending votes out into the ether where they could theoretically be tampered with by someone in an undisclosed corporate office who has a different outcome in mind.

Which is why many counties in New York State, the last to conform to HAVA, largely opted for the optical readers we see in use today. Votes are tabulated in place rather than on a computer linked to God knows where, and for that, we should be thankful.

But still, is this method of voting truly easier for people with disabilities? Particularly those with shaky hands and failing eyesight? The rule posted in the urinals…er, … booths, was very specific. “Fill in the round dot completely and neatly.” We can assume that errant marks, X’s and holes chewed in the ballot will result in the failure of a vote to register.

It’s all kind of nerve wracking actually. Sort of like retaking those S.A.T.s.

Which is why we advocate taking a school age child along while voting. Not only is it a terrific lesson in civics, they’re also really good at filling in those little circles.

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