Greene: Voting Machines

Aug 8, 2018

In light of suspected tampering with 2016 election, it’s easy to be jittery around voting innovations involving the internet. But new machines for voters with disabilities, called The Accessible Voting System, enable the homebound to vote by touch screen, joystick, keypad, or breath controlled sensor.

Voters make their selections by computer, print their marked ballot, and send it to their town clerk, where it will be hand counted, because current tabulating machines cannot accommodate copier paper.

To some, it’s a troubling foot in the door toward doing away with paper ballots altogether. But Vermont’s Director of Elections, Will Senning, says Vermont already has a law on the books that every vote must have a paper ballot associated with it. And there are no plans for online electronic vote casting.

Anyway, to Andy McLean, Dover Town Clerk, the danger of internet-based voting - even that which still produces an actual paper ballot that the voter returns to the Town Clerk - is less a question of foreign meddling than of political parties hovering over voters - or even bullying them.

Now, for instance, you cannot wear a candidate’s T-shirt or button to the polls. Political signage must remain a certain number of feet from the polling door – so it’s just you and your conscience in that voting booth. But the current procedure for requesting absentee ballots is a good example of how the process can become skewed.

You, the voter, might be approached on the street by a volunteer who offers to order you up an absentee ballot that you can fill out at home - at your convenience. The request form is filled out and delivered to your town clerk. In Dover, McLean then calls to make sure you actually want an absentee ballot. But very often the answer is no - you just wanted to get rid of the volunteer.

Senning assured me there will be opportunities for public input as voting technology evolves. And to maintain voter confidence, it seems to me that there will indeed need to be a lot of public discussion of all these concerns. But as Senning reminds us, people will always have the option of going to the polls.

Of course, if voting day were ever declared a public holiday, another very big obstacle to voting would be overcome.