Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Electronic Voting Comes to New Jersey - ppphhhtt.

Ah, voting day. No more phone calls. No more ADS. Blessed relief...

Today is the first day my New Jersey town used electronic voting, and I cast the first electronic ballot in my little village Why? Two reasons:

1. I was one of the five people there at 6:00AM, and

2. I was the only one who could figure out how to make the machine work.

A year ago we used paper/computer ballots. You walked up to a counter, told them who you were, signed your name, received a paper ballot, and filled it in with a #2 pencil. It was then sucked into an old pencil-reader unit and tallied. Technically speaking, this WAS a computerized operation. The only part that wasn't electronic was the actual ballot, which was paper.

It also allowed something like 20 people to vote at the very same time. All you needed was a stretch of counter where you were alone and observed (so you wouldn't cheat). Take your time. Read the ballot 20 times. Nobody cared, because there were plenty of places there in the fire hall to cast your ballot. There was never a line.

NOW we have "improvements." You walk up, as before, give your name and sign. Then you're given another piece of paper to sign, from which your "chit" is torn. You walk this over to a new station, where they activate your "voting card," which is an inference reader. Before they activate this card, however, they take your "chit," sign it, and stick it through with a big needle and thread - the chits are kept on the thread. To activate the card for each vote they take the card and move it to a magnetic activator. Then, and only then, are you ready to vote. Are you with me so far? No? Neither was anyone else. The people manning the polls were walking around with actual FEAR in their eyes, and I don't blame them. This "system" had to have been designed from retired "process experts" from the Massachusett's Registry of Motor Vehicles. It was absolutely Byzantine...

Old system: sign name, get ballot, vote.

New system: sign name, sign chit receipt, get chit, hand over chit for voting card, voting card activated, receive voting card, vote.

So, we're at the "activate voting card" step at this point. This took the nice woman I was dealing with about 5 minutes. She finally let me help her when she realized there was no way she could figure it out, so I showed her how to do it (thus, I'm the first vote - nobody else knew how to reset an inference card).

And there I was, with the first truly active electronic voting card in my little town. HISTORY was being made...

I walked into into the booth. I put my inference card in. Because it's proximity based, it sort of flops in the slot. I'm sure it was designed that way to prevent it from wearing out - it doesn't have to be in contact with the reader, unlike a credit card, so it just sort of hangs there in the slot. But it doesn't feel "right" to a generation who is now used to ATM readers, so this is the first area where people wig-out. As I was leaving I was hearing:

"Hey, this card doesn't fit in the slot right. It's flopping around." Etc.

I let everyone know "I'm pretty sure it's fine - as long as it's in the slot, even upside down (no such thing with an inference card, but why explain that?), it works fine."

But I digress. First, my experience "in the booth." Up comes the touch screen. What a cluster-youknowwhat. Rows and columns all over the place. Initiative Questions off to the right in no apparent order. "Soft buttons" all over the place. Plus, the screen is canted upwards. I'm about 6' tall in my work shoes, and I had to tilt my head upwards to read the top row.

Did I figure it out? Sure. Would my 72 year old neighbor? Not in an hour. Maybe not three.

What did this gain us? We already had votes tallied electronically in near-real time. The ballot was easy to read and use. 20 people could vote at once, without any line. It was cheap, too. I have to think that this "modern voting machine" cost us tens of thousands of dollars.

What an ill-advised, poorly designed "improvement." I can't think of a stronger DIS-incentive to voters.

Your government at work...

1 Comments:

Blogger Jack in the Buff(alo) said...

DAMN!!!!! I KNOW AN AUTHOR (And a pretty good one, with an intelligent perspective, at that…)
Rob:
FYI, We in the PRNY still use levers in mechanical machines. ‘Crats love them cause they can bollux them up and, if they win, it’s fine; if they lose, the damn Republicans jammed the machines. Floppy cards (or, better yet, #2 pencils) sound great.

7:16 AM  

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