After a reboot, does my e-vote count?

When Kevin Ho of CNET's Blog Network tried to use a voting machine in the California primary, up came Sequoia's red screen of death. Then a poll worker gave it a good slap.

A Sequoia voting machine rebooting, and rebooting... Kevin Ho

With all things touch-screen in an increasingly touch-screen centric world, I was given the "plastic or paper" option for casting my vote in the California primary on this most super of Super Tuesdays. So, not liking the marker fumes and being used to touching everything on the iPhone anyway, I opted to vote "plastic."

The polling place had 10 conventional optical-scan voting stations with real paper ballots, but only 1 digital voting machine. San Francisco uses the Sequoia voting machine and, well, here's my story:

The clerk handed me a plastic card to insert into the machine. The idea is that you insert the card to activate the ballot and machine. Easy, right? Umm, no, not so in my case. Instead of the black screen of death, Sequoia's red screen of death (irony that the Communists would laugh at) popped up when I inserted my card into the machine's slot. Nothing moved--neither touching nor talking to the machine worked. What's worse, the card was now stuck in the machine as there was no eject button or function. The clerk who handed me the card was confounded. I was having flashbacks to that movie, Man of the Year, with Robin Williams being elected on a computer glitch. I had a thought that I'd have to cast a dreaded "provisional ballot"--at least my name isn't Chad and I'm not pregnant.

Not to be deterred, however, another clerk came over and explained something about hitting "yes" to the other clerk who handled the plastic cards that had been processed on another machine. The clerk then proceeded to lift the back of my voting machine up, slapping it hard so that it must have told it to reboot itself. (What is it about me and having to reboot things? Voting machines, airline seats, iPhones?)

After the two-minute reboot, voting was simple. After a language choice, you were presented with various screens containing all the would-be presidents, ballot measures, and attempts to turn Alcatraz into a Global Peace Park. (I voted no on that bright idea.)

The font was large and not as elegant as the voter guide, nor was it sexy like any Apple-based user interface, but it was functional. I clicked my choices (maybe you can see who I voted for on the pictures I took on my iPhone to document the event) and, at the end, was asked to review my choices. What's best, is that the screen then directed me to look at the paper (yes, paper) receipt that scrolled up on the left of the machine, providing the reassuring paper record of my vote. And it was, indeed, accurate.

So in the end, it's an anachronistic notion that in a plastic world, paper is still the default method that gives us reassurance that our vote still counts. What's more interesting is that while my plastic voting method was expected to be faster, it wasn't, as some of the paper people in line behind me moved past.

Casting my vote on Sequoia: A vote for me and a vote for you. Kevin Ho
Receipt with you or in the bag? Sequoia's paper receipt. Kevin Ho
About the author

    Kevin Ho is an attorney living in San Francisco. He's from Iowa originally where he got his first Atari computer when he was little and remembers using the Apple IIGS. He is PC-user but secretly a Mac person in the closet as evidenced by many an iPod cluttering his desk drawers. He'll be writing about his experience with the iPhone. Disclosure.

     

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