It’s been a month since Election Day and I’ve been thinking about the way we vote. Maybe I’m nostalgic, but I miss the old “voting booths.” There will be a day, no doubt, when the memory of the “voting booth” will go the way of the “phone booth.” I guess what I really miss is the feeling that when I went behind a curtain the sacrosanct process of voting was a private one. It’s the privacy I think we have eliminated.
In Connecticut now, we go to a little desk, which has three cheap looking plastic sides and we fill out a paper ballot by darkening the ovals associated with the candidates we wish to vote for. The plastic desk sides still leave you out in the open—you’re not enclosed at all. They accomplish very little, actually. We then take our completed ballot, walk across the room to a machine, and feed the ballot into the scanner type machine. The actual voting is the feeding the ballot into the machine. If you choose to, you could put your ballot into a folder while you prance across the room, but there is no way to avoid taking out the completed ballot in public, and being seen by the world with it in your hands. I never would, but what if a voter decided to leave the last page blank? Could the person behind me in line see that? Can they see some of my votes?
It’s a relatively low-tech process, but it is no longer a mechanical process, like the old lever machines worked. And at the end of the voting now, the machine kicks out one tape, just like a cash register tape, with all of the cumulative results. I like that part. There is no longer the human error prone process of a person reading many, many numbers off machine counters, which was like reading off small odometers, and then calling them off to recorders. Occasionally they were read off wrong, heard wrong or written down incorrectly.
It was obviously time to move on from the machines to the digital age. The machines are no longer manufactured; we were running out of parts and mechanics to fix them. But why did we have to eliminate the privacy of the booth? Why can’t we arrive at a digital but completely private system?
We can do without the levers—we’re never going back to them. But let’s go back to the practice of having the voting booth, and a process where we can all take a moment all by ourselves to think and then to cast a completely confidential vote.