The devolution of voting technology

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I just voted. I drew thin little lines with a generic black ballpoint pen on a paper ballot resting on a cardboard tableâ''I wouldnâ''t go so far as to call it a booth. Then I slipped the ballot into a large paper folder (for privacy), walked across the room, and put the ballot into a big cardboard box. It didnâ''t feel very official; certainly it lacked ceremony. (At least, however, itâ''s fully recyclable.) In fact, the only reason I really feel like I voted is the oval sticker Iâ''ll be wearing on my sweater the rest of the day.

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It made me nostalgic for the 80s, when I voted using New York Cityâ''s mechanical monsters (and envious of those who still use them today) When I walked into the boothsâ''and they were really boothsâ''and pulled the curtain closed, I felt like the Wizard of Oz, all powerful. You flipped switches to make your choicesâ''good-sized switches, you moved them with your whole hand, not just a finger. And then, after checking over the big board in front of you, making sure you got it right, you pulled the big handle with both hands, to lock in your vote and open the curtain; it took a little effort, it made you feel like you were really registering your vote.

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Moving to California I left big mechanical voting machines behind. I voted paper ballots for a while. Still, these were more satisfying than todayâ''s paper ballots; you marked them with a fat black marker, not a little pen line. And then you handed them to a poll worker and watched him feed it into the scanner right in front of you; again, you had this sense of closure, that your vote had been recorded. I moved on to punch card ballots, long before I knew that the little punched out pieces were called chads, I thought of them as confetti. The little tool used to punch the cards was a little hard to handle, the circular handle not very ergonomic, but still, when you made a selection it poked through the ballot with a satisfying thunk.

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And then came touch screen. We were early adopters here, and found out early that touch screens had problems. My first couple of touch screen elections were only mildly annoying; the systems kept trying to get me to go back and vote for more judges, more city council members, when I was trying to target my votes to a select few. In the 2006 election, though, the touch screen system turned my polling place into election night chaos, as the new printers, designed to provide a paper trail and make the systems more reliable, ran out of paper, locking up the voting machines. Sometime after the polls officially closed, poll workers scrambled to rip sample ballots out of voter information guides, and handed those out to people in line, reassuring us that we just needed to mark our choices and they would, eventually, be counted.

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So I wasnâ''t surprised to find that touch screen voting is over in my district, and weâ''re back to paper ballots. I just wish there were a way to make these little marks on paper feel more official.

Share your election 08 experiences here.

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