It was the infamous 'hanging chads' of the punch card ballots in 2000 that prompted a switch to fancy electronic 'touch screen' voting systems in Florida for the 2004 election. They spent millions of dollars for these fancy new machines and then simply junked them because they didn't have a paper audit trail. Why they didn't have a paper trail, I don't know. It doesn't seem to me that it would be so difficult to have the computer spit out a printed 'receipt' after you vote? But, they didn't ask me.
We didn't get to experience these machines because we were in Roswell, New Mexico during election 2004. The aliens abducted our absentee ballots there - but that's another story!
So how are we voting in Florida today? Back to paper! Yes, we have a regular paper ballot where you fill in the bubble next to name of the person you're voting for. You might think that would be cheap and low tech.
Au contraire! We took advantage of being in Florida this time and voted at a booth rather than absentee. Let me describe our experience. We voted last week during Early Voting. There were 11 voting locations set up throughout the county This means that multiple precincts were handled by each location. Each precinct has a different ballot, so, they had to individually print them out! First you handed your ID to one pollworker who swiped it and verified your eligibility and your precinct. She gave us a receipt to take to the worker at the printing machines. The receipt was entered into the printer and it spit out a perfect 4-page ballot. We took the ballot to the booth and filled in our desired bubbles with a black ink pen - not a #2 pencil.
Last, we took the ballots to an optical scanner, where we fed them into the machine and saw a message that they were successfully scanned.
So ... is this scanned paper ballot a good compromise? Or the worst of both worlds?
I'm hoping for the best. It's about time Florida got it right. It sure seems to me that the day is near when we'll be able to swipe our fingerprint on any Web-connected computer and be able to register our vote. Or use the cell phone, like on American Idol! Not only does that not cost the public anything, they actually *make* money when people vote for Americal Idol. Voters dial a 900 number which costs a dollar or so. I don't believe there are any controls over how many times a given person can vote however ... that could be a problem :-)If you want to read more about the paper/touch screen/scanner controversy, here is a good article.