Kitty cats aren’t for stickers

Today is voting day. This morning I took my daughter to the polling place, which is in a church right across the street. It’s kind of fun just walking across the street to go vote. Every time I do it, I feel kind of special, even though the general elections in D.C. are anti-climatic. Since D.C. is 90 percent Democratic, all of the races are usually decided in the primaries.

Anyway, Samantha came with me for the first time. She asked what we were doing and I told her we were choosing the people who help run the city and the country. I’m sure she didn’t quite understand, but that’s okay.

When I first started voting in Washington, I was surprised by the process. The first step is to tell the poll workers my name. They look it up in a book and ask me to sign it. No ID or anything. Then I write my name on a little card and hand it to another poll worker. In years past, that poll worker would hand me a paper ballot and direct me to the “machines.” Recently, though, I’m given a choice: paper or touch-screen. Easy choice: paper. I’ll explain in a moment.

Anyway, I took the paper ballot, walked over to the little stands and used a standard non-technical pencil to fill in broken arrows. Then I feed the ballot into an optical scanner.

As I did all this, Samantha played with Lamby and ambled around my legs. It wasn’t until I got my “I voted” sticker, that she perked up. “I want a sticker!”

“Please,” I reminded her.

“Daddy, please I want a sticker!”

I asked the poll worker for another sticker and she gladly handed me another. Sammy put it on Lamby’s chest.

When I used to go to the polls with my mom, I remember the big machines with curtains and levers and such. It seemed so dramatic! So when I became a voter myself and used the paper-and-pencil system in D.C., it seemed so backwards.

But in recent years, I’ve changed my mind. The paper ballot is so easy. Just use a pencil to fill in a broken arrow. Mark the ballot directly. Use a scanner to count the marks. How simple is that?

The touch-screen systems are dangerous. They might work perfectly, but there’s no accountability. I can’t log in later to see how it recorded my vote. Print-out receipts are meaningless. The computer can record a vote for candidate A, and print out a receipt showing that I voted for candidate B. And in most states, recounts can rely only on the actual ballots, not paper receipts. So they are dangerous because it requires blind-faith trust. And that’s not what democracies are built on. Democracies require accountability.

So thinking about it now, D.C.’s system actually seems near perfect. The only system I’ve heard that’s better is to use a touch-screen system to print the actual ballot. Then the voter checks that filled-out paper ballot to make sure it is correct. If it’s not, shred it and start over. If it is, the voter submits it to an optical scanner to count it. It’s something University of Maryland professor Avi Rubin describes on a recent Science Friday.

The last time I voted, in the September primary, I noticed our Delegate, Eleanor Holmes Norton, using the touch-screen booth. I wanted to go up to her and say, “Stop! This is a bad a idea!” But I didn’t.

Anyway, I hope as a country we can move to something like what Avi Rubin describes. It’s so much more sensible and puts all this nonsense behind us.

So after voting, I guided Sammy back to our house. Once inside, I gathered my stuff for work and her stuff for school, still thinking about voting. Then I noticed one of our cats sporting an “I voted” sticker. It was time to move on to more pressing concerns.

“Sam, kitty cats aren’t for stickers.”

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