I Voted Today. Ask Me How!


I just got back from voting at the local Methodist church, where I filled in ovals on two long sheets of paper (two columns each) with a fine-point black marker, then slipped the sheets into a reader that looked like a combination of a fax machine and a shredder. This optical-scan method automatically creates a paper trail and avoids hanging chads, but it's probably my least favorite way of voting, laborious and reminiscent of standardized tests (and almost as time-consuming, given all the judges and bond issues on the ballot in Dallas). I even prefer New York's ancient mechanical voting machines, with their levers and swoosh of the curtain, although they probably were nearly as open to fraud as the most hackable Diebold machine. Although I understand the concerns about manipulation and the need for a backup record, I like touch-screen machines like the ones they have in Northern Virginia the best. They're adaptable and easy to use, and they minimize butterfly-ballot-style confusion for anyone who is comfortable using an ATM machine. Back in November 2000, when the Florida fiasco highlighted the problems with punch cards, I naively endorsed electronic voting as an eays fix. I'm still hoping they can get the bugs out.

NEXT: Falling for the Transexual Agenda

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  1. .. I, too, just finished voting with the same setup described .. I can see how it would be cumbersome with a lot of people on the ballot but here in the sticks of New Mexico it took me all of about 3 minutes to fill it out .. I also like the backup record ..

    .. Hobbit

  2. I voted absentee (my county is all-mail voting this year). On Saturday I got a notice from the county auditor saying that my ballot was being contested because my “signature did not match my voter registration card.” They made me fill out an additional two forms and include a copy of my driver’s license. Next to my picture on the copy I made a speech balloon that said “SOMEBODY DIDN’T LIKE MY VOTE!”

    It won’t count anyway…

  3. I like ovals on paper. It’s how we do it around here (East Texas) and, all the FL 2000 shenanigans (“Oops, did we put all the Republican ballots in stacks hidden in the janitor’s closet? Our bad!”) aside, I know someone would have to go to physical trouble to dispose of my vote, instead of tapping a few keys.

  4. I had a genuine Diebold machine. It was a piece of cake and even printed out a hard copy. Or a potemkin hard copy at least. Easy to use although I sit in front of a computer 12 hours/day.

    The only interesting incident was overhearing the crack team of 85-year-old volunteers chatting about some card reader (?) not working. But it wasn’t supposed to not work. They always work.

    The plastic card that has your votes on it seems more dodgy than the machine itself. Hope the vintage babe I gave it to put it in the right box.

  5. I’m with Eric on this. Ovals on paper are something that a voter can verify before putting it in the box, unlike the magnetic card that the touch-screen machine spat out when I finished voting this morning. Ovals on paper can be read by a machine for a rapid count, but be verified by hand for a recount if questions are raised about the machines.

    And ovals on paper can’t be easily erased, while magnetic cards can be reprogrammed. Somebody has to swap out the originals, which can be stamped with serial numbers. Sure, a fraudster could swap out ballots with the correct serial numbers, but anybody who has the inside info and reliable helpers to do that on a large scale is a much bigger problem than ANY technology can address.

    Sure, paper ballots have been swapped out before, as could memory cards, but the paper ballots are still easier to protect, using serial numbers and whatnot. And I suffer from no illusion that any technology is perfect. Obviously the paper ballots still need to be guarded in a redundant and transparent manner, but the same can be said of magnetic cards, hard drives, or any other storage medium.

    The bottom line is that I want a medium that is harder to tamper with, easier to secure, easier to verify, and more transparent.

  6. We in Austin voted on non-Diebold touch screen machines. You get an access code from the election judges instead of those cards, and enter the vote using something that more or less resembles a laptop mouse. (A dial that moves across numbers or the bubbles besides the candidates names.) It may be hackable, but we in the People’s Republic of Travis County haven’t had too many problems lately.

    Eric, I grew up in Commerce, between Dallas and Texarkana. What part of East Texas do you live in, if I may ask? (For the rest of you, and Jacob, since you’re a Texan now, all Southerners who learn they both have some connection to the same, oh, 500 square miles, are obligated to learn if they know each other or each other’s friends, relatives, pets, etc. I’m just following custom here.)

  7. “I Voted Today. Ask Me How!”

    I’m more concerned about how often you voted.

  8. Not to push for a big federal rule or anything, but I think that the fill-in-the-circle method Jacob had to use probably is the best. It is the least corruptable and most efficient. I know its like taking an SAT, but we’ve all had to take a test like that at one point or another before age 18, so at least everyone can relate to it.

    As I write this, I’m sitting in a university computer lab while a guy on a cell phone explains to his mother how to use the touch-screen voting machine. I shit you not. Just take the test, people.

  9. I used a Danaher machine this morning. Simple enough to use, just push a membrane switch underneath a paper overlay with the candidate info on it. Potential problems I see: membrane switch aren’t too robust, you need a hard push to pick a candidate and you have to be at least 5 foot tall to reach the write-in slot at the top of the machine. I think short folk will be disenfranchised in Bucks County, PA.

  10. I voted on paper forms like the ones that Mr Sullum describes. There was a broken arrow that I connected with the fine point black marker they gave me. The election judge then guided me to a scanner that the paper ballots shooshed into and disappeared. I had the option of voting on a touch screen machine, but as I told the lady waiting to vote on the touch screen, I wanted my vote to count. She laughed nervously.

    Lots of older folks were voting while I was there, and many of them needed their hands held while the navigated the electronic or paper ballots. One lady did not understand the judicial retention ballot. The election judge explained to her what that meant, and she said, “Oh, yes, I want to vote for all of them.” I so badly wanted to walk over to tell her not to vote if she had no clue what it was about. Democracy – oy!

  11. If in doubt, vote ’em out!

    If an amendment reads too slow, simply vote a resounding no.

  12. In Oklahoma we fill in the middle section of a two-headed arrow. Very quick and easy. We get a Tootsie Roll for voting.

  13. Speaking as an Oregon voter, why more states don’t go with the Oregon vote-by-mail system is beyond me. It’s been in place for over a decade, it seems relative fraud-proof (at least, compared to the electronic systems…boondoggle or fiasco, you decide), leaves a paper trail and is relatively hassle-free.

    I suppose the only downside would be if you vote early and then change your mind, but considering the alternatives…let’s just say you won’t see the next Katherine Harris coming out of Oregon (I hope we don’t see the next Katherine Harris, period, but I am not that optimistic).

  14. we had the same fill-in-the-ovals-and-put-it-in-the-shredder. the main problem with our ballot was who was on it.

  15. I have voted on a similar [complete an arrow, not dots] system to Jacob in San Francisco, although now I am a permanent absentee voter.

    One huge benefit of such a system is that there are NO LINES. You mark your ballot on your own time, pretty much anywhere you want and then feed it into the reader in seconds.

    When I lived in Northern Virginia, we had touch panel voting, typically 2 machines per location. Clueless people could hold up the entire line ENDLESSLY.

    Plus, I like the paper trail, should things go amiss.

  16. Karen:
    Eric, I grew up in Commerce, between Dallas and Texarkana. What part of East Texas do you live in, if I may ask?

    Montgomery County, as it happens.

  17. If an amendment reads too slow,

    simply vote a resounding no.

    Hey, that actually scans. I’m impressed.

  18. PurpleOregon,

    We have early voting in Florida. I can’t remember when it started, but I think it was at least a couple of weeks ago. I voted at my library (no wait at all) 4-5 days ago.

    As I mentioned in another thread, I actually voted for Harris. I had intended to vote LP (I can’t abide Nelson, astronaut that he may be), but the LP candidates were all listed NPA, and I couldn’t recall the name of the one running for Senate. That, or I wasn’t kidding about voting this election by chest size 🙂

  19. Ladies and gentlemen, your new Senator, Ms. Chesty LaRue! 🙂

  20. Admittedly, an electronic system could be much faster than a paper ballot…but what possible harm are straightforward paper ballots? The only cited downside is that they’re slower to process, and that strikes me as a fair trade for somewhat greater security.

  21. Ladies and gentlemen, your new Senator, Ms. Chesty LaRue!

    That would make CSPAN a lot more fun to watch.

  22. PurpleOregon,

    Exactly. My vote can’t matter, because she’s waaaaaaaay behind Nelson. I also let my girlfriend’s daughter vote for Agriculture Commissioner (she correctly voted to re-elect Charles Bronson, who I’d vote for just for his work in The Great Escape). I fear that my libertarian cynicism may be reaching critical levels. I almost wrote in Malcolm Reynolds for governor.

  23. I voted exactly the same way that Jacob Sullum did, with the ovals, except:

    – I just had a single, two-sided sheet.

    – I used a black ballpoint pen instead of a fine-line marker.

    – The church I voted at was not Methodist, but Southern Baptist. (Or possibly non-denominational. My attempts to go online and ascertain this led to a complex description of how Southern Baptist churches are organized and whether they make up a “denomination.”)

    I had a choice of either voting this way or using a touch-screen machine. However, there was a long line for the touch-screen machines — apparently many people wanted to try them out — whereas several of the other type of voting station stood empty and waiting, and I was in a hurry.

  24. Ladies and gentlemen, your new Senator, Ms. Chesty LaRue!

    That would make CSPAN a lot more fun to watch

    Mary Carey did her best.

  25. I voted a few weeks ago (San Antonio) with some touch screen machine. I didn’t notice if it was Diebold or not, but it was easy. Early voting is so nice. Why stand in line on the 7th with all the other procrastinators?

  26. I almost wrote in Malcolm Reynolds for governor.

    Mal vs. Kinky. There’s a race I could get excited about. 😉

  27. Jacob,
    I voted in Plano (just a little North of you). We had Diebold touchscreen machines, no paper printout. Which local Methodist church was your polling station? Preston Hollow or Lovers Lane UMC? Just curious since I grew up in LLUMC.

  28. We also have the arrows. Even those seem to be too complex for some; the machine rejected the ballot of a woman in front of me. She hadn’t filled in any of the freaking arrows.

  29. What is it with the rap on Diebold? 100,000,000 people don’t complain about getting their cash (in the right amounts at the right times, with written confirmation) from Diebold ATMs. Are they just the bogeyman corporation du jour?

  30. Oh, and if you happen to click over to my post on how I voted, be sure to check out Libertarian Railroad Commission Candidate Tabitha Serrano’s quote. I wish more candidates for office were like that.

  31. I wrote in a certain lawyer friend for every open judicial spot. I wrote in friends, family, my wife, myself, Neil Young, Nick Gillespie, Les Claypool, and Diana Ross for a bunch of slots. Other than voting across the board against retention of judges, I voted for just one candidate who was actually on the ballot. That was the governor’s race. Get the hell out of Springfield, Blago!

  32. That, or I wasn’t kidding about voting this election by chest size 🙂

    Ladies and gentlement, presenting (with the aid of some very special effects) Ms. Nikki Cox, the new EMPRESS OF THE WORLD!

  33. Rabbit, you might want to look into what’s happened with voting machines.

    Jim March, who is by no means an uppity lefty type, has presented ample documentation showing that the security on the Diebold voting machines is fairly easy to circumvent.

  34. Thank you, Stevo.

  35. Ladies and gentlement, presenting (with the aid of some very special effects) Ms. Nikki Cox, the new EMPRESS OF THE WORLD!

    Those who would give up Essential Liberty for some large fake boobs deserve neither Liberty nor boobs.

  36. I almost wrote in Malcolm Reynolds for governor.

    Well, I would take that as a kindness.

  37. Mediageek —

    Thanks for that. But if you were going to hack a machine, would you rather hack an ATM or a voting machine!?

  38. Rabbit, I suppose it depends on what your goals are.

  39. I too had the fill in the broken arrow type of ballot. Arizona had two pages, front and back, two columns. 95 things to decide. Voted for the Libs, against the incumbent, or gridlock where applicable. Voted no on all Props except the one defining eminent domain for “public use” only.


  40. I voted with the same scan-tron form (single sheet) in a “Community Church” (they had no religious symbols, so I’m assuming they’re wacky evangelicals like those mega-churches).

    They’re adaptable and easy to use, and they minimize butterfly-ballot-style confusion for anyone who is comfortable using an ATM machine.

    So it wouldn’t be very fair to the Democrats…

  41. It’s all hackable. Knowing a little something about systems called “information”, a simple and secure electronic system can be made. The irony is, I’m not sure if it would be more foolproof than several old-fashioned manual systems. The point being that the old fashioned paper systems are ‘hackable’ too.

    The electronic systems can give you a condensed receipt of your voting choices. I envisioned a system where you could, after voting go online at a later time and verify your results. Ie, see HOW your vote was actually counted.

    Your receipt might have ‘voter # 7166-hjk-8899szx’ and/or your voter registration number. After the vote, you can go to a website, plug in that recepeit and compare what was COUNTED with what your receipt showed.

    With paper systems, all it took was one ‘misplaced’ group of ballot boxes in the wrong hands and *poof*, you’ve got a potentially hacked system.

    The problem, like so many others in I.T. is that non IT people get ahold of the process, demand all kinds of fancy technological layers for a system they don’t understand. Then the complexity of the system goes up exponentially leaving more holes for security problems.

  42. For me here in LA, it was a Catholic Church. All the churches are Catholic now, where I live. They must bus old white people in to man the polling booth, because there sure aren’t any living in my precinct.

  43. Mediageek:

    The Blackboxvoting people have point, but their point only goes so far. I have no doubt about the technical facts concerning the hackability of the Diebold machines. However, I have doubts as to the probability of a hack occurring. Again, the real security is in keeping unauthorized hands off the ballots– be they paper, or be they electronic. A box full of paper ballots scribbled on with pencil are no more secure in the trunk of someone’s car.

    You can actually have a ‘simpler’ electronic system that would probably be more secure than the Diebold one.

  44. would you rather hack an ATM or a voting machine!?

    I think there’s a lot more money available in D.C. than in any ATM.

  45. If New York is like Pennsylvania, the wonderful old mechanical machines are all gone, replaced with touch screens due to the new anti-Florida laws.

  46. Well, dammit. I hadn’t realized my county had switched to electronic systems for this election. I had to vote with an eSlate unit – I asked whether they had paper ballots, but they did not.

    It had a very nicely designed interface, and in my annoyed searching since getting home, I haven’t found any evidence of known flaws worse than “in 2002, some poll workers were confused by it”, but damn…

  47. I guess the nice thing is that Diebold doesn’t have the monopoly on the market. Makes hacking the system just a bit harder.

  48. The smarter you are, the less your vote counts.

  49. Aw, Mal, if I’d known you were in the ‘Verse, I would’ve cast that [insert Chinese curse] ballot.

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