GEEKNOTE: I've never been a big fan of absentee voting as it just doesn't seem quite the same as driving to the poll and voting in person. Early voting is another matter. I took advantage of early voting this past Saturday and the changes in technology that make it possible are amazing.
My first few elections were at the New Port Richey Fire Department and involved these funky booths with levers you flipped to pick the candidates of your choice and a big lever that you moved to open and close the curtains. These were 100 percent mechanical and reportedly left something to be desired from an accuracy standpoint.
Technology advanced and we went to the now infamous punch card system, which never seemed to be a problem for me. I'm pretty sure you could tell who I voted for by the punched-out holes with no dimples and no hanging chads to be found anywhere. Maybe I had no problem because I'd used punch cards to write programs back in the 70's. Others were apparently more punch card challenged, and the 2000 election mess was the result.
After the 2000 election, we went to touch screens, which I actually liked a bunch. I never worried about the lack of a paper trail. After my state legislator filed a bill in 2000 to ignore the votes of all Floridians and instruct of Florida's presidential electors to vote for his candidate, worries about someone manipulating the results at the precinct level just didn't seem that important.
We've now got these monster ballot sheets, two this year because of all the amendments, that we mark and then feed into scanners as we exit the polls. These provide the paper trail if needed for a recount. This system works amazingly well.
I went down to the West Pasco Government Center, one of four early voting locations in Pasco County. I only waited in line a couple of minutes before I was called to the table where the election worker checked my photo ID and voter registration card and the fellow next to her printed out a precinct 25 ballot for me to use.
The on-demand ballot printing is a great idea. It saves a ton of paper because they election folks only print out ballots for those folks who show up and each ballot is printed for the specific precinct of the voter.
I walked to an empty booth, made my choices and walked over to the scanner a few minutes later. Fortunately, I had already looked over the candidates and other items on the ballot and knew exactly who and what I was going to vote for and against before I got there. Some folks were apparently trying to actually read the text of each amendment and decide on it while in the voting booth. I didn't stick around to see how long they were spending, but some folks were in the booths when I got there and still in the booths when I left. Take my advice and study up before you go to vote.
I don't believe that the early voting system we now have would have been technically feasible using any of the older technologies we used in the past. With the on-demand ballot printing, it becomes simple.
Where will election tech go from here? I've heard folks suggesting that we could vote over the Internet, but that strikes me as a very bad idea, mostly because we would lose a lot of the controls we now have in place to keep someone from voting multiple times. With the Chinese and Iranians both hacking corporate systems connected to the Internet, just imaging what mischief they could do if we allowed online voting. I believe we ought to stick with the current system.
Early voting continues through this coming Saturday and I encourage everyone who is registered to vote to give it a try. The lines on election day promise to be quite long because of all the amendments, so vote early and keep your time in line to a minimum.
Feel free to drop me a note or leave a comment here if you have any questions about your computer or your office network.
Rob Marlowe, Senior Geek, Gulfcoast Networking, Inc.
(Rob also serves as deputy mayor of the City of New Port Richey. Opinions expressed here are his own and do not necessarily represent the position of the city.)