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At least our elections run on time

Essay by Martha Quillen

Politics – December 2000 – Colorado Central Magazine

AS OF THIS MINUTE — 11:59 a.m. Tuesday, November 14 — I may not know who will be our next president, and I’m not at all sure when I will know, but as I see it, there’s some good news, too.

Back in the old days, I rarely thought about where my ballot went after I finished with it, and I never reflected very much on the technology of voting, either. And I suspect that I wasn’t all that unusual. What’s more, I suspect that we all should have thought about such things more often than we did.

Now, however, we’ve all been forced to think about the technology of voting in the United States. And as it turns out, some of our voting equipment is antiquated, obsolete, and unreliable.

That, however, is not the good news. The good news, of course, is that we are now looking into such problems, and presumably we will correct them in the near future.

But the best news is that the worst machinery in this country — this time around — does not belong to us. When we asked around after the election, it turned out that our region has — for the most part — very adequate equipment. And in Chaffee, Custer and Park Counties we’ve actually got some of the very best voting apparatus available.

According to a recent report on MSNBC the wave of the future includes two things — computer touch voting and optical scanning, and as it turns out, my vote was counted by one of those state-of-the-art laser scanners.

In Palm Beach, Florida, however — with its tens of thousands of voters — they use quirky, outdated punch cards that reportedly get pregnant and abandon their little chaffs all over the place. (Yes, I know the experts call these chads, but Chad’s a person’s name and doesn’t seem applicable at all. And though some newscasters have called them chats, I don’t see why. They certainly can’t make very much noise, and therefore I think calling them “chaffs” is better.)


Even though they’ve got twenty-five electoral votes…

And even though their governor has some excellent connections with the GOP candidate…

And even though — not so long ago — politicians from both parties rushed down to Florida in droves to pledge their support for a Cuban-American great-uncle who pitted his own custodial rights against the rights of an alien but natural father in defiance of the American courts, the U.S. attorney general, all international law and any common sense — a tactic which now, in retrospect, pretty obviously could not be adhered to, but nonetheless probably did glean some votes, and which definitely put Florida in the spotlight)…

Yes, even so — in spite of all the political advantages Floridians have — in Central Colorado our votes are more likely to be counted.

Until this 2000 election, I would never have thought that Central Colorado would prove to be a leader in the acquisition of modern technology. Hell, much of our region is still not — and perhaps will never be — reachable by cell phone, and some homes here still can’t be reached by any telephone service.

Over the years, many outlying subdivisions in Central Colorado have had to rely upon intense lobbying and the assistance of their state representatives in order to overcome the irksome difficulties involved in obtaining very basic phone service.

Yet Custer, Park, and Chaffee counties have laser scanners.

And although several recent news reports have lauded the idea of touch voting as the wave of the future, Ed told me he actually preferred laser scanners, because the system provides a paper ballot (something that can be checked and recounted).

OF COURSE, we probably only have the best equipment because we couldn’t afford to buy anything back in the ’70s and ’80s when new electronic devices were far more expensive and far less reliable. But regardless of the reason, we have the best, and our counties aren’t stuck with a bunch of expensive old unpredictable machines that — as one Denver newscast reported — are difficult to repair and almost impossible to find parts for.

Moreover, with laser scanners on site, when a voter puts his ballot in the scanner, impossible combinations show up immediately. Thus, if you vote for two candidates in the same race, you’ll know before you ever leave the precinct, and instead of having your vote trashed, you’ll be offered a choice of whether you want to vote again or — as is oftimes the choice when it’s something like a regents’ race or an obscure amendment — you can just decide to have that particular vote deleted. Thus, neither the new laser scanners nor the high-tech touch computers will allow the sort of voting errors that plagued Florida.

So there you have the good news. We in Central Colorado are doing well in the vote-counting business.

And someday soon our entire country may indeed be a better place — fairer, more democratic and more efficient (due almost entirely to the mess we’ve made out of this latest election).

–Martha Quillen