14 05 2006

I became a Democrat for a day and voted in the recent primary election, and I’m happy to say that Amanda McClendon succeeded in her bid to become a judge, at least in part because I voted for her, although she would have won without me. Her victory was described by the Nashville City Paper as “a landslide,” a term they did not use for any other race on the ballot—but then, most races were uncontested. You can’t have a landslide without an opponent.

I created a bit of a stir in my polling place. I asked for a paper ballot. “I don’t think anybody’s messing with the results of this election,” I told the surprised clerk. “It’s the principle of the thing.” I was the only person of the hundred or so who had voted in my precinct to make such a request, and it took them a couple of phone calls and a bit of paper shuffling to get it together, but I was provided with a number two pencil and a paper ballot and got to indicate my choices in good, old fashioned, unmistakable pencil lead. Actually, they tried to set me up with a ball-point pen but I pointed out that the instructions on the ballot called for a number two pencil. They weren’t gonna throw my ballot out on technicalities, no sir.

Let me tell you a couple of stories about why I insisted on a paper ballot.

The first comes from right here in Tennessee, where many counties in the state have contracted with the Electronic Systems and Software Company (hereafter referred to as ESS) to buy electronic voting machines. ESS gave the counties a deadline of April 14 (Good Friday) for placing orders. Then, on the morning of April 12, ESS faxed Wayne Pruett, the Tennessee co-ordinator for the so-called “Helping America Vote Act,” and informed him that any county that wanted to buy ESS voting machines would have to agree to accept “used” equipment. Got that? 48 hour notice about a major change in a multi-million dollar contract involving multiple county election boards? Right before Easter?

That should be enough to make a state co-ordinator stand up and roar, right?

Wrong. In an interview with Debra Narrigan of Gathering To Save Our Democracy, a Tennessee group dedicated to honest elections, Pruett admitted that, although this bait and switch “hit us broadside” and was “totally unacceptable to the state,” he would not prevent counties from contracting with ESS, although it is technically within his power to do so. Furthermore, he neglected to inform the Davidson County electoral commission before their meeting that day, because he didn’t want to appear to be doing anything that might influence their decision. He did tell them about the change after their meeting. How thoughtful! How helpful!

Story two takes place in far-away Utah, that notorious hotbed of left-wing authority questioners, where a 23-year veteran County Clerk, Matt Funk, became suspicious about the quality of the Diebold voting machines mandated by the state of Utah and decided to have an independent assessment done. Not only did the independent assessment show numerous problems with the machines, the Diebold Company had a cow about having outsiders play around with their proprietary software—oh yes, and the little matter of BlackBoxVoting. org being involved. Funk resigned in protest and the county went ahead and accepted the Diebold machines anyway. The county paid technicians over $1200 a day to work the bugs out.

Of course, that’s just the latest Diebold story. There’s a lot of them out there, none of them good. But it doesn’t take a $1200-a-day technician to set me up with a piece of paper and a number two pencil, and you can’t hack into a paper ballot and change it. I’d like to see more creative, compassionate, and essential uses of my tax dollars than having them spent on five-figure voting machines and four-figure technicians. I don’t think we need to be in such a hurry to count the votes that we have to have a computer do it for us. Hey, there’s few enough jobs left in this country, we might as well hire each other to count votes, right?

Although the Helping America Vote Republican Act does not mandate that machines provide a paper record of the vote, maybe even because it doesn’t, I think it’s time to take matters in our own hands and start a movement. They have to give you a paper ballot if you ask for one. Friends, next time you vote, do it the old-fashioned , time-tested way–on paper.

music: Leonard Cohen, “Democracy”

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