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A Vote for a Better Voting System

By Joe Wessels · March 12th, 2008 · Wessels
Sophia Hughes

The world of post-2000 presidential election voting in Ohio isn't working. It's way too expensive, unnecessarily complicated and perversely taxing on everyone involved, from underpaid poll workers and board of elections workers to the voters themselves.

Here's a shocker: The old way was better. Hanging, dangling, partially perforated chads are preferable to the convoluted and problematical solution forced upon the electorate by greedy voting machine manufacturers and overzealous politicians.

I came to this conclusion March 4 while at the Hamilton County Board of Elections, where I've found myself on many election nights over the years, waiting once again for results to come in.

This year we had Sandusky County to blame. And Clermont County again. Not enough ballots was the issue this time. Past problems included "damp ballots" and "missing memory cards" and an array of problems that never existed before and likely won't end under the current system.

Before the big change to electronic scanned ballots mandated by federal and state laws -- and the endless fights over paper trails versus trusting electronic memory chips -- everything seemed to run smoother. Kentucky, for example, uses a system that hasn't changed in decades, a simple pull-lever style of voting.

They get accurate results hours sooner than Ohio does.

For about five years I was the presiding judge at "Colerain EEE," my childhood home precinct located in St. John the Baptist Church's gymnasium annex. It was me, the twentysomething kid, with three mostly gray-haired women who called me "boss."

They let me be the presiding judge because, for an extra $20, I was responsible for picking up the voting booths, ballots and other gear used on Election Day. I then had to return the ballots to a designated drop-off location after we accounted for all our voted ballots.

We used punch card ballots that were slipped inside a Vote-a-Matic machine that was probably 15 years old, or older. The punch card was blank and numbered holes corresponded to the ballots in each Vote-a-Matic.

The ballots were checked at the Board of Elections before they went to the precinct. We then were responsible for checking them again at the polling place. We signed a statement, after holding up our right hand and swearing to it, that we'd done our jobs as we were told to do them.

Now it's all backwards. Those punch card ballots cost less than a penny apiece, and we never ran out. The new ballots, which have to be printed specific to each precinct, cost more than 40 cents each. Poll worker training that used to take an hour now takes four or more.

Punch cards were made of cardboard-stock paper, not especially prone to varying humidity or coffee spills. No poll worker had to hold up the ballot to the light -- as what happened to me March 4 -- to see if all the little boxes had been completely shaded before being placed into the electronic vote-scanning machine.

I spoke to Hamilton County Board of Elections members from both parties, and each rolled his eyes when asked if this new system better served the voting public.

"It's millions (of dollars) more," one said, "and it's less reliable."

Former Hamilton County Board of Elections Director John Williams -- who, by law, stepped down after the March 4 primary -- said a few years ago in a Reuters news story that he predicted we'd go back to punch card ballots within 10 years. A device that costs just a few hundred dollars can be placed in each polling place to quickly scan a punch card and immediately tell the voter if he or she over- or under-voted their ballot, a crucial piece of information.

If our political leaders can't improve the system on their own, the public needs to take a stand. Enough is enough.

Trust in our voting system is a major pillar of our democracy. Without it, I fear the partisanship and divide in this country will continue indefinitely.

CONTACT JOE WESSELS: joe@joewessels.net



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