If you think your vote isn’t important, consider this: in New York, three state senate seats and two congressional districts are still up for grabs and the election was three weeks ago.
One of the reasons for this is that when an election is very close, the absentee ballots, which are on paper, become very important and must be scrutinized and counted carefully. Another reason it’s taking so long is that New York’s new voting system, using computers, isn’t anywhere near as modern as it could be. Under the previous system, we had those old-fashioned, mechanical voting machines. You pulled the handle and the curtain closed. Then you pushed down a bunch of levers and the machine counted your vote mechanically. When the polls closed, the people who supervise the polling places opened the machines and read the totals on the mechanical registers inside. They wrote the numbers down and then telephoned the numbers to the board of elections. Later, the machines were transported to the Board of elections in case there were irregularities. One way discrepancies arose is that someone writing down the numbers at the polling place, or at the board of elections might transpose the numbers.
Political party committeemen also called or took the numbers to each party’s election headquarters.
Except for absentee ballots, and emergency ballots where there were problems, the old mechanical system didn’t have any paper ballots. The new system is computerized. Do you vote on the computer? No; of course not. Everyone now votes on a paper ballot. The paper ballots then get scanned into the computer. Computers, we’ve all been told, are supposed to eliminate paper. That isn’t always so, especially in this case. In addition to everyone using a paper ballot now, local boards of elections are required by state law to print far more ballots than anyone reasonably expects them to use. This has got to cost millions of extra dollars statewide. There isn’t a lot of privacy under the new system either. There’s no curtain you get to vote behind, for instance. Also, the paper ballots have to be preserved in case there’s a problem.
Do the computers in the polling places tally the votes? Yes, they do. Do the computers report the results to the board of elections electronically? No; of course not. The same hand-written reports used under the old system are still the way the elections results get reported. So the same errors can be introduced in the same ways.
With appropriate security, I suppose it’s now possible to report the results electronically and tally them electronically too. Then, the results could be displayed in real time on the board of elections website and anyone could log on at any moment to see the progress of the voting once the polls close. In New York, the polls close at 9:00 PM and with appropriate security we ought to know the results in almost all elections statewide, before midnight.
Couldn’t someone highjack an election by hacking some computer somewhere? I suppose so, but these days computer security is good enough that multi-national corporations and individuals like you and me trust our money to the computerized banking system.
One reason people don’t trust government is because they think whatever the government tries to improve will take longer and cost more than it did before. With respect to our new voting system, it appears they’re right. If there’s one thing New York’s new voting system has in abundance, other than paper ballots of course, it’s room for improvement.