July 12, 2006
That Idea Looks Good On Paper
The Help America Vote Act, or HAVA in bureaucratese, came about as a typically well-intentioned but probably off-center reaction to the whole "hanging chad" and "butterfly ballot" episode in 2000. Part of its "Help" component is to mandate that precincts everywhere switch to new electronic voting machines.
But how is that change going -- and going over -- in the great state of Tennessee? Let's start at the local level. The first word I heard was that Hamilton County was indeed obtaining new electronic voting machines. For those that don't know, for some years now our county has used the Diebold AccuVote system. This involves a paper ballot with ovals that the voter darkens by hand, and the machine scans the ballots and records the votes much in the same way that millions of standardized academic tests are scored.
So at first I was a little nervous that all of a sudden we would be switching to all touch-screen systems, and kept looking for the County to organize some kind of demonstrations or education sessions to, you know, Help America Vote. No deal.
But then we learned that only disabled people will use new machines in the August elections. Therefore the Election Commission is training poll workers on them, but not the general public. This election promises to have the feel of moving, like when you have to mail your bills from your old mailbox but you expect the next statement to come to the new address. The "abled" (more or less) will have to wait until later to change technologies.
However, other areas of the state are for certain making the full switch, and that has some people worried (there was an article on KnoxViews but it has disappeared). There have been repeatable, documented security failures on several platforms. I work with developers, so my opinion on this is informed by the daily fact of human error, and not by some grand conspiracy theory -- but the fact remains that something can go wrong. Also, consider the position of someone who isn't at a computer 10 or more hours a day (I know, weird), especially someone who has really never touched one, and you can surely see cause for concern. The principle behind "Help America Vote" should be to provide usability across the rather diverse spectrum of technological experience levels, shouldn't it?
What that boils down to is this: if a voter cannot register his or her lawful decision on a system that, for all intents and purposes, might as well be Martian, that voter should be allowed to receive a paper ballot. (We'll do well to remember that paper is a technology too, so it's all about the familiarity.) In the counties that say they'll refuse to provide the necessary means for non-digital folks to vote, what impact do you think that decision will have on turnout in the next election? I don't anticipate having a problem with the new machines, whenever they get here, but I am aware that many people will. I don't like that fact, but I must accept its reality. We need to know what our officials plan to do in terms of implementing the spirit of the law.
Elections | By joe lance | 10:05 PM