Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Even more thoughts on voting

Today is Election Day, and for the sake of you, my fine readers, I decided that this election I'd take advantage of the new electronic voting machines and report back. I hope you appreciate the fancy investigative journalism I've done here. According to NPR this morning, 90% of ballots cast in today's election will be done by mail, so most of you probably didn't get a chance to experience this. Some thoughts from my fun time this morning:

  • I'm one of the few and proud who showed up to the polls this morning, along with a gentleman and his four-year-old daughter who said he was teaching her civic responsibility. This is exactly the reason I hate to give up on polling stations, which unfortunately seems quite likely as we move to all vote-by-mail.
  • The polling station ladies were giving out the non-electronic ballots by default this time. When I requested the electronic ballot the woman helping me had to fill out a form, have me read out the precinct information that she'd filled out from a carbon copy, and then have me hand that carbon copy (and read the precinct information out loud again) to the Deibold representative so he could program the card I'd be using. Why is it that the electronic option actually takes more paper than the non-electronic one?
  • The Deibold rep didn't seem to want to help me, either - his instructions consisted of, "you've used this before? no? just put your card in there". I'm glad I didn't actually need help, because I don't think he could have provided it.
  • On the ballot itself, I was very curious as to how they would translate the information that's currently in scantron form on the paper ballots into a web-like UI. I should have realized that they wouldn't - they took no advantage of the opportunities provided by the display and simply presented the exact same interface - three columns, squares instead of bubbles, no links to more information or any improvements to readability.
  • I also only had the choice of either reading the ballot in high-contrast mode or large fonts. Apparently people aren't allowed to want both.
  • Once I got to the end of the ballot, I was allowed to review all my selections and hit "print". You'd think this would print the whole ballot, but for some reason it only printed the first few votes, then asked for more confirmation to print the next few votes, and so on. At any time I could reject the ballot, but it let me know up at the top that I could only reject the ballot twice. I don't know what would have happened if I had tried to reject it three times.
  • Each time I printed, it made this horrible screechy printing noise that I was sure everyone could hear (apparently not; the polling ladies either have bad hearing or the noise is pointed just at the user). When I rejected the ballot just for fun, it called out "ballot rejected". All in all, I felt very exposed.
  • Although I seem to remember that I would be able to see what was being printed out so I could confirm its accuracy, it was actually hidden behind a plastic panel. Maybe I missed something in my non-introduction from the Deibold rep?
  • Finally, when I was done the polling ladies and Deibold man all looked at me curiously so I spoke to them about it for a while and described the experience - it turns out not a single one of them (including the Deibold representative!) had ever seen what the screens look like while voting. I guess they all prefer paper.

There were quite a few important issues on the ballot today, so for all of you living in the area, you've got till 8pm - go out and vote!

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