Today, you can reach into your pocket for a device that is roughly the size of a postcard. From that single device, you can: make a phone call; send a text message; take a picture; send and receive an email; check your calendar; use any social media platform to find out what all your friends are up to; pay your bills; send someone money or deposit a check; search any website imaginable; call a cab; read a newspaper, magazine or novel; find out how many steps you’ve taken; play music; get sports updates; use a compass; record voice messages; get movie or concert tickets without paper; check the weather; watch your favorite TV shows or movies; play any game you want and even unlock your car door.
But on Election Day in 2017, a paper ballot and a pen are used to cast your vote. Did I miss something? Haven’t we seen video of Third World Countries, voting for the first time, filling out paper ballots and dropping them into a shoebox?
Remember how exciting it was back in 2010, when we learned that New York State was finally joining the rest of the country by switching to electronic voting? New York was the last state to comply with federal law. Although I was going to miss the simplistic, yet archaic AVM Lever Machines that debuted in the 1930s, I was looking forward to how the technology available now, in the 21st century, was going to be utilized in the new voting process.
I recall taking my kids with me into the prehistoric booths. Once inside, they would struggle with the giant lever to close the privacy curtain (ka-chunk). I showed them how to select the candidates by flipping the lever above their name. The behemoth allowed just one candidate selection for each position—no cheating! When you were done, you had to use all your strength to pull the lever back (ka-chunk) and the curtain would magically reopen for the next voter. It was crude, basic and it did the job.
Although my expectations were somewhat tempered, I imagined multiple voting terminals would be available. I anticipated entering my social security number, being verified as an eligible voter, and then making my selections off a touch screen (or with a mouse). When finished, the screen would ask me to confirm my votes before selecting “OK.” Isn’t that how everything already worked in 2010?
By then, we all had home computers, many of us had smart phones and some had those new-fangled “I-Pads.” Technology had improved dramatically since 2000 and selecting items off a computer screen was as common as using an ATM machine for most people. Even our buying habits had changed as we began getting comfortable with buying things online in a “point and click” universe.
Imagine my surprise when I found that nothing had changed except the old reliable voting machines were gone. You still had keepers of the oversized Medieval books, pouring over the yellowing, dog-eared pages, trying to locate your name. Once they find a match, the only ID required is your signature. I almost expected them to hand me a quill pen that I had to dip into an ink bottle.
Instead of directing me to the nearest computer terminal to register my electronic vote, I was handed a paper ballot that looked like the answer sheet we used on the SAT’s way back in 1972. The pre-printed ballot was adorned with a tiny font, and contained so much information, you felt like you were reviewing the technical readouts of the Apollo Lunar Module. This is what they came up with?
Just like back in kindergarten, you are instructed to color in the circles for the candidate of your choice. Make sure you stay in the lines and fill in the entire circle! When you finished coloring the circles, you then insert your completed ballot into a scanner. In an age where you can locate your parked car with your phone, New York State is handing out pieces of paper and asking people to color in a circle to elect politicians.
Regardless of the method, I continue to exercise my constitutional right to vote in every election. I’m just not sure I’ll still be around when the next technological advancement is introduced, taking us into the 1990s, the dial-up modem.