Thursday, November 8, 2012

Voting Rites

On election day 1952, before I left home to cast my very first vote for President, I hung out a load of wash to dry, finished writing a letter on my manual Royal typewriter, used my rotary phone to call a friend in Cincinnati, and wrote a note to myself to remind me to clean my oven with “Easy Off”, a time-consuming job I dreaded. With my bare hands, I lifted the heavy garage door and pulled out my stick shift black Pontiac sedan to drive to my local polling place. .

There, I stepped inside a private curtained booth with one side open for entry. The voting machine inside was automatically activated when I closed the curtain using the big black handle. Alone, inside, I pulled down the levers underneath the names of the candidate I wished to support, and when I opened the curtain by pulling the handle back, my vote was automatically registered.

On Election Day, 2012, before I left home to perform my civic duty, I spent an hour on my computer skyping my granddaughter in Italy, im-ing a friend in San Francisco, and responding to an e-mail message from a company in Seattle. On the way out I tossed a load of wash in my energy-saving washing machine, set the timer on my self-cleaning oven to go on in two hours, then opened my garage door with the  electronic opener and drove my hybrid car to the polling place.

In the school auditorium/voting place, I cast my vote on a paper ballot by filling in a little oval (pen supplied by the state) to the left of the candidate’s name. I stood at a quasi lectern with sides barely preventing me from seeing my neighbor’s ovals and him from seeing mine. When I finished I took the unfolded sheet of paper, fed it into a box marked “Ballots”, and accepted my “I voted today” sticker.

What’s wrong with this picture? A society dedicated to saving the trees has no qualms about cutting down a forest when it comes to electing a President? The reason given for returning to the process so favored by our ancestors is:  paper ballots are more reliable; automatic machines have too many glitches—too many problems. If this is true, why is it we can trust electronic devices to transfer funds in and out of bank accounts around the world, but we can’t find one smart enough to accurately record our  biennial votes?  Apple where are you when we need you?

Isn’t it time every town in this country with a population of more than a thousand people be required to install electronic/mechanical  voting machines that meet the same high standards of performance as required in all other aspects of contemporary life--and enough of them, so that four, six or eight hour lines are a thing of the past?  Paper ballots have had a good run; let’s put them to rest and make sure that from now on, the only place they will be seen is at that venerable institution, The Smithsonian—where we store all our other American relics.