COLUMN: Red, white and blue screens of death

By Andrew Mason

Shortly after the 2000 Election debacle in Florida, the Internet was abuzz with rumors and conspiracy theories about voter fraud and disenfranchisement. These theories possessed varying degrees of truth but their only lasting effect upon the country was the call for the modernization of our election system. We sought to avoid a repeat of hanging chads and permanent residents of Lakeview cemetery making their voices heard. The answer we presumed laid with the 21st century’s cure for everything, technology.

Fast forward to tomorrow’s midterm elections. According to CBS News, four out of five voters in this country will cast their ballot using either touchscreen machines or something we University students are used to, a Scantron. Almost extinct are the levers and punchcards that supported our republic for ages. Not surprisingly, many Americans are wary of these new-fangled methods. But as it turns out, the same problems that afflicted old-time democracy are still present.

Companies that have been contracted by the government to provide the new equipment, like Diebold, have come under fire from watchdog groups that say its machines are prone to tampering. A Princeton University professor has cautioned that a voting machine could be rigged to cast a phony vote in its memory and display the correct choice to the voter. An AP story last week out of Tennessee broke the theft of 18 smart voter cards that could be reverse-engineered to cast multiple votes without detection.

On top of that, the federal government has failed to enact a national standard for elections that is so desperately needed. In such a law’s absence, we have today’s situation – a hodgepodge framework of confusing, differentiated systems that can only be adequately described as what we had in 2000. Only this time, instead of chads and butterfly ballots, we have to deal with potential power failures, hacking, malfunctions, lack of paper trails and the same thing that plagued Miami-Dade County, voter confusion.

The drawback of technology is that it makes our lives more difficult before it makes it easier down the road. Anyone who expects perfection from the new system is hopelessly naive not only to technology but also to politics. I cannot recall an election cycle in which there was not some kind of disingenuous behavior from either side of the aisle. The truth of the matter is, what you should really be worrying about is the same old tricks. Line packing, the dead rising to vote, lack of polling places in dense areas and the general incompetence of some election workers haven’t gone away.

Elderly voters are more likely to be confused by electronic voting, but they vote more consistently than any other segment of the population. The irony is that young people are the least likely to vote, yet they are the ones least likely to be negatively affected by the new system. In my opinion, the solution is pretty clear.

Older voters should utilize the same resource for voting as they do for programming their VCRs: their grandchildren.

An older, wary voter can take a grandchild to the voting booth to assist in operating it. As the child explains how to properly cast a ballot, the grandparent can explain to the child why casting a ballot matters. Once the process is completed, the two can emerge from the altar of democracy confident that the system, for all its vices, still works.

Will there be problems tomorrow with no easy solutions? Yes. Will people be disenfranchised? Of course. Is there anyway to stop it now? No.

The best approach is vigilance. Know your candidates’ stances. Be sure who you want to vote for before you show up. Ask for help. And if necessary, bring a child. Bring a kid anyway, even if you don’t need one because while technology marches forward, democracy won’t be left behind if the next generation of citizens can keep pace.