Voters lose faith, interest due to inadequate systems

Anyone who’s seen the recent HBO movie Recount, or, better yet, remembers the 2000 presidential election, knows that voting in reality isn’t always the exact science it should be.

This year, problems are expected to escalate as more voting districts employ touch-screen voting booths for the first time, including our own Allegheny County. Roughly one-third of voters cast electronic ballots in the presidential primaries, and that number is expected to remain the same for the general election next week, according to a Jan. 6 article in The New York Times Magazine.

Districts that have begun early voting, such as some in Florida, Virginia, Kentucky, and Georgia, have already reported malfunctions in the new voting equipment — machines that freeze up and need to be rebooted, machines that cast users’ votes for the wrong candidate, or machines that don’t record votes at all, to name a few. Add to that the number of people who no longer have residency because their homes have been foreclosed, and you’ve got thousands of votes that will not count at all — votes that could potentially determine the outcome of the election.

Unfortunately, there is little voters can do to prevent these technological glitches from happening on Election Day. Voting machines are kept under lock and key in the days leading up to the election to prevent tampering, and only a handful of people in each district are authorized to operate them. The federal government is aware of the problem, and has vowed to eradicate the bugs by 2010, citing that it would not be feasible to complete the task by Election Day 2008.

While these problems are due to the introduction of new technology, it is important to remember that the “old technology”— the booth, the curtain, the lever — was not without fault. The debate surrounding hanging chads in Florida in the 2000 presidential election, in which voters had many problems with hole-punched paper ballots, is an important reminder of the need for more advanced voting technology.

Getting some 142 million registered voters to cast their ballots is a messy process. So next week, cut the volunteers at your polling station some slack — but do make sure your vote was cast, whether you’re pulling a lever or touching an icon on a digital display.