Thursday, November 09, 2006

A Voting Story

A few weeks ago, I realized that the book tour for Kidnapped might interfere with my plans to vote in the November 7, 2006 elections.

I knew I'd be traveling on election day and had planned to vote by absentee ballot. Then I realized that I wouldn't be home when the absentee ballot arrived, so that Tim would have to Fed Ex it to me, and I'd then have to come up with time on the tour to vote and send it back. Anyone who has dealt with overnight shipments to hotels knows how imperfect that system can be -- you can easily wait a second day while the package works its way through the hotel's shipping and receiving department. By then, I'd be off to another state.

My friend Margery Nelson works to keep me informed on a number of issues, and as a result of what she's sent to me about electronic voting machines, I mistrust them. But in this case, it seemed to me that my only choice was to vote electronically before election day. I went to the county library, documents in hand, not sure what to expect but willing to give this a try.

The staff outnumbered the voters by about 7 to 1, but this was only about the second or third day of early voting. I had brought my sample ballot with my voter identification information on it, my drivers license, etc. I signed in. A gentleman took me over to a video machine and asked me to be seated. I watched the video on how to vote with the machines while other staff busied themselves preparing my Voter Access Card. (The ballot choices on the video demonstration did provide some laughs, although I was dismayed that the imaginary voter selected Tom Jones over Orville Wright, Amelia Earhart, and Neil Armstrong for "Commissioner of Transportation." Other candidates in other races indicated that the folks who put this demo together are readers -- how else does Lillian Hellman end up on the ticket?)

I received my card. I touched the screen. I voted.

Or so I thought.

On the tour, mentioned how easy it was, and I joked that my vote had probably already been electronically discarded. When calls from candidates came in on few the days when I was home, I could smugly say that I had already voted.

That's what I believed.

In my hotel room on election night, I saw the Hacking Democracy special on HBO. (It will be on several other times in November and December -- you can see the schedule here.) The Seattle Post-Intelligencer reports that Diebold asked HBO to pull the documentary, which Diebold says is inaccurate. However, at least in the story in the P-I, Diebold didn't counter some of the most unnerving accusations.

When I returned home the day after elections, Tim said, "I forgot to tell you what happened when I tried to vote."


"Yes. They said I had already voted. They recorded your touchscreen vote as mine. So they would only allow me to cast a provisional ballot."

Despite the fact that I don't look like your average Timothy, that I had documents with the name Jan Burke on them, and signed in as Jan Burke, I voted as Timothy.

This would seem to be human error on the part of the pollworkers, rather than a problem of the machine, but one wonders exactly what went wrong with this process -- and what else could go wrong.

In the meantime, apparently my electronic vote and Tim's provisional ballot are held in limbo.

No more early touchscreen voting for me.

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