Sunday, November 12, 2006

Why Do We Have Trouble Doing Elections?

Last week on Election Day, I went to my polling place like so many others to cast my vote for my choice of candidates. And, although I was not prevented from making my selections among those listed on the paper ballot, I was prevented from selecting my preference of voting machine.

In my precinct there were three voting booths which were nothing more than tables with cardboard screens surrounding the top for privacy. There was one touch-screen electronic voting machine. Being the techno-geek that I am, I opted for the electronic touch-screen voting booth.

The precinct worker said that it had not worked earlier that morning and that he didn’t know how to turn it on, so he called in another guy who seemed to know more about it. He walked over and got a cartridge of some kind and plugged it into the machine. Nothing happened. He tried it one more time. Still nothing happened.

He then told me he was sorry but the electronic voting machine was not working and hadn’t been all day. I went ahead and voted the old-fashioned way by filling in the bubbles next to the anti-Bush candidates on my paper ballot.

The next day, I discovered that had I been able to vote on the touch-screen machine, my vote would not have been counted yet, and might never have been counted. Not only were the machines programmed to shut down at the wrong time, but most precinct workers didn’t know how to operate them.

I also learned that several dozen memory cards had been misplaced and not all of them had been found yet. The people who did manage to cast votes on the electronic machines might or might not have had their votes counted.

So, after staying up late the night before to see if the Democrats would regain control of Congress, I was disappointed that I had to wait until late the next day to discover that the last Senate race to be counted, in Virginia, finally went to a Democrat. And it wasn’t until the second day after the election that it was official.

It wasn’t as bad as the presidential election of 2000 when it took weeks to find out that George W. Bush had won the election in Florida, and then only because the Supreme Court said he did. But it is disheartening and embarrassing to know that in the 21st century, in a time of technological revolution, that this country still can’t count votes in an efficient and timely manner.

Are we a third-world country when it comes to determining election results? Sometimes it seems so. What is the problem?

Americans send billions of virtual dollars around the world every year from the privacy of their own homes and offices over secure Internet connections. We are able to purchase our license plates online. We can buy auto insurance online. We can even file our state and federal income taxes online. I’ve done it for years and have never had a problem with security.

Millions of Americans do their everyday banking without ever going to the bank. I’ve been paying my bills online since 1987, even before the Internet existed in its present form.

And all that begs the question: Why can’t we vote online? Why is it so important that we show up at polling places in our precincts where incompetent workers misplace ballots and can’t seem to figure out how to turn the machines on?

Why can’t we register online using our Social Security numbers and addresses, then on Election Day, vote online in the privacy of our own homes? For those who do not have computers, voting terminals can be set up at libraries or even at the typical precinct polling places. Forget the voting machines and paper ballots.

If we can use secure Internet technology to do everything else that requires precision and security, why can’t we use it to vote? It would be fast, easy, secure, and the election results would be known instantly after the polls close.

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