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Tuesday, November 7, 2006

I, Robo-voter

Posted By on Tue, Nov 7, 2006 at 3:22 PM

The new, controversial Diebold touch-screen voting machines are anything but user-friendly. When I arrived at my designated polling place, a school on the near West Side of Cleveland, I was handed a card similar to the one I use at the ATM. A veteran of using credit cards to purchase gas, I figured that I'd be an old pro. Boy, was I wrong. The first problem I encountered was figuring out where to put the dang card. I figured I'd slide it in the front, but there was no slot, so I tried swiping it down the side, which was futile. Finally, I figured out to stuff it into the top of the machine, as if depositing money in a piggy bank. The card went in, but the screen flashed an angry red message that said my card wasn't properly cleared. I tried again, and got the same message, so I called over a poll worker to help. He tried and got the error message. He went and got a different card. Error. A second poll worker was using what they called a "vote decoder" to clear the cards after use. Apparently, she wasn't doing it right. "Maybe that was the problem -- I didn't press it hard enough," she said. "I have a light touch." Finally, I got a working card and the machine came to life. With that out of the way, I figured the process would be smooth. But then I was stumped by the very first question: Who do I want for Ohio governor? Two of the candidates had "Lieutenant Governor" under their name. Was I also supposed to vote for my candidate's running mate? I chose the name I wanted for governor and decided to move on, but the rest of the ballot was just as confusing. Some screens had more than one race per page, and I almost missed voting on at least one. Then I got to ballot issues, which didn't have the numbers by which they'd been advertised on signs and on TV. One issue bled into a second page, and it took me a while to move on, for fear I'd miss the opportunity to vote on the issue. Also, when I wanted to change a vote by pressing my new choice, the machine buzzed at me. It took a second to realize I had to uncheck my first choice and then select a new one. It wasn't just me -- an elderly voter with a cataract struggled with the machine across from me, groaning in frustration, and eventually had to be walked through the ballot by a poll worker, who sheepishly read some of the man's votes aloud. Over on the liberal website Dailykos.com, there's an entire thread filled with Ohioans suffering similar problems. When I was done with the ballot, the machine printed a receipt, which was kept behind glass. It took several screens to print, and I was tempted to try to cancel my vote halfway through just to see what would happen, but I didn't want to be there all day. On the way out, I handed the card back to the pollworker (the one with "a light touch.") She scanned my card through the decoder and said, "Look what it says, 'Can't read card.' Do you think he should do it again?" "No, he's finished," said the poll worker next to her, though I got the impression that if I had pushed, they'd have let me go again. -- Kevin Hoffman

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