An electronic election

FILLERS

BY JOHN CULLEN

I was able to experience the latest in voting techniques Tuesday at the school election in Storm Lake.

My Fourth Precinct at the Chautauqua Park shelterhouse included a new touch screen computer for voting. The old paper ballot, where voters filled in circles and fed the completed sheet into a vote counting machine, was also available but I opted to try out the new hardware.

In this system the voter touches the screen next to the chosen candidate’s name and when the voter is finished, a paper ballot the size of a #10 envelope is ejected with the voter’s choices listed. This small ballot is then fed into a machine which tallies the vote.

When I first learned that we would be voting on computers I was concerned that there would be no paper trail. States that have eliminated paper have run into trouble later on in contested elections where recounts are necessary. The fact that BV County’s system produces a paper trail is reassuring. While BV County has had these touch screen computers for more than a year, I hadn’t used them before.

The touch screen is much faster than filling in those circles on the big paper ballots, which would be useful in a busy general election when there are lines of people waiting. But the school board election was sparsely attended so speed wasn’t an issue. I was the only voter in the polling place mid-afternoon Tuesday, and only the 23rd person to that point; 78 total voted in my precinct.

I don’t think the Russians tried to interfere with our school elections, but you never know. Putin’s a shifty guy. The ladies who ran the operation there were quick and efficient and I didn’t hear any Russian being spoken. I also didn’t see busloads of people from Massachusetts being bused in to sway the vote.

When I first voted 49 years ago, we still used the big old voting machines, the kind where you walked in a closet-like contraption, pulled a big lever that closed a curtain behind you and then flipped little switches to make your choices. Those were considered quite an advancement over traditional paper ballots because these machines, essentially giant adding machines, could tally the votes mechanically and allow the poll workers to report results within a half hour or so of the polls closing. In contrast, places where voting took place on traditional paper ballots — primarily cities and very rural areas — could sometimes takes days or even weeks to count all the votes, and they were subject to manipulation. Unscrupulous candidates and poll workers could make ballot boxes disappear. Or they could be stuffed with bogus ballots in some back room after the election was over. We’ve never had that problem here.

So the election went off without a hitch — as they always do in Buena Vista County — and we had a good slate from which to choose. All three candidates for the two openings on our Storm Lake school board were good choices and there were no disagreements among them during a candidates forum last week. They were all focused on what’s best for our children. It’s another reason we are lucky to live here.