Another Round Of Voting Changes

For years, Ohio voting procedures seemingly did not change. The voting booth was a huge metal machine, where you pulled a lever to close a curtain behind you, used toggles to expose checkmarks that reflected your votes on candidates and ballot issues, and then when you were done pulled the lever in the opposite direction to register your votes with a satisfying thunk and open the curtain again. But those huge machines are long gone, and now it seems like the procedures changes with every election.

Yesterday’s election featured another set of changes. Our polling place was switched, from the Schiller Park Rec Center to the Livingston United Methodist Church, and the procedures were different, too. When you showed your driver’s license and signed in–on a touch pad with a stylus, rather than the big voter roll volumes that used to be used–you were handed a manila folder that contained a slip of paper and a long, thin sheet that fell on the dividing line between paper and cardboard.

One of the polling station volunteers then led you to an electronic voting machine, took the slip of paper from your folder and scanned it at the machine to register your precinct, and then inserted the long rectangular piece into the machine before leaving. It was up to the voter to then activate the machine, go through the ballot and use the push buttons on the screen to indicate your votes, and review the ballot before pushing another button to finally confirm the votes on candidates and issues. At that point the machine printed the votes on the long sheet and spit it back out, and the voter put the sheet into their manila folder, walked to another poll worker, and followed their instructions to insert the sheet into a scanning machine. Only then did the voter get the treasured sticker–also featuring a new design this year, if I recall correctly–indicating that they had voted.

I believe this is the first time I’ve used the new electronic machines, and am confident that I’ve never been given a manila folder before. I’m sure the tweaks to the voting procedures are an attempt to hit that sweet spot that allows voters to use electronic processes to register their decisions quickly but also generates some kind of meaningful paper record that can be used in the event of any recount or claim of voting improprieties. And I suspect that the manila folders were used to permit any worried voters to maintain ballot privacy during the short walk between the voting machine and the scanner. (Somewhere in Franklin County, you can probably buy used manila folders pretty cheaply today.) It’s all part of the process of constant improvement as voting moves from those colossal old metal machines to the modern electronic era.

I’m happy to report, by the way, that Columbus Issue 7, the bogus “green energy” initiative that would have raided the city budget to the tune of $87 million, got crushed at the polls yesterday. The supporters of Issue 7 apparently expected that, because last week they submitted a new petition to the city, this time seeking $107 million. That’s the price of living in a free country, where we get to go to the polls, experience the new voting procedures, cast our ballots, and get that sticker that we can proudly display so everyone we see knows we’ve done our part,

Two-Step Voting

Our election on Tuesday involved a very limited ballot; we voted for Mayor (where the incumbent was running unopposed, which tells you something about the low-key politics in Columbus), City Council seats, a few judges, and a tax levy.  Not surprisingly, turnout was low — which made it a good election to roll out a new, two-step voting system.

3002712465_fa843110d0_zAs an old codger who cut his voting teeth on old metal machines where you moved a bar in one direction to close the curtain, depressed levers to expose a mark next to the candidate of your choice, and then moved the bar back to register your vote with a thunk and open the curtains again, I’m used to changes in the voting process.  I’ve probably voted using about 10 different systems over the years.

The new process involves multiple steps.  After first going to the registration people, showing your driver’s license and signing in, you get a piece of paper that you then present to one of the voting volunteers.  They lead you to a machine, explain the new process, and scan you in.  After you vote on the machine, a paper ballot is printed out, and you walk over to a different area to deposit your completed ballot into a secure box.  The last step is new.  Apparently the new system was introduced to enhance voting security and also to better comply with federal law on accommodating people with disabilities.

The new process worked just fine . . . in an election where the turnout was low and there were no lines to speak of.  But I wonder what it will be like in 2020, where there is likely to be a huge, perhaps even historic, turnout — which is probably one of the few things people at every point on the political spectrum can agree on.  There will be a line to get to the registration table, and then a line to wait for a voting official to walk you to a machine and scan you in, and then presumably wait, again, to deposit your ballot into the secure box.

It’s probably going to be a zoo, which makes me wonder whether I should just plan on doing early voting when the 2020 election rolls around.  It probably would be less of a hassle, but I’m resisting that because I like gathering with my fellow citizens, waiting patiently and solemnly and thinking about what I’m doing, and then exercising my franchise and getting my voting sticker.  It makes me feel good about myself and my country, and I’m not sure that I’m ready to give up that uplifting, shared experience.  At the same time, I’m not sure I’m ready for a three-hour wait in an election where passions will be running at their highest, either.