Rage Against the Voting Machine

Thank Florida for electronic elections

The coup that installed George W. Bush as the United States' first mentally retarded president, slathered the Bill of Rights with Wite-Out and can't hardly wait to violate the most basic tenet of international law—hell, human decency—by starting a war simply because it wants to . . . well, that ruthless band of traitors is just about the best thing that has ever happened to the voting-machine business. Ironical, ain't it?

"No question: what happened in Florida during the 2000 presidential election has been a huge benefit to this industry," acknowledges Deborah Seiler of Diebold Election Systems. "Elections are quite expensive, anyway, so counties weren't interested in spending even more money for new voting machines."

They're interested now. Orange County will spend between $20 million and $30 million on a new computerized voting system to replace its aging, manual DataVote system for the 2004 election. That's a big risk, and not just because Bush & Coup may get around to canceling elections by then. It's dicey because the people laying out the dough—ultimately, OC's Board of Supervisors, who will take up the issue Tuesday—know as much about buying computers as you do. And you bought your last system mostly because . . . well . . . it looked so cool.

So it's hard to say whether it was a good idea for the supes to factor public feedback into their decision-making process. But they did.

Last summer, the three finalists—the eSlate, the iVotronic and the AccuVote-TS—were sent on a 10-stop demonstration tour of showrooms (libraries, city halls and Leisure World rec rooms) around the county. A representative from the Registrar of Voters went along, distributing and collecting secret-ballot scoring sheets from the 500 or so people who stopped by to give the machines a test drive. The results of that scoring have not been released. But we can report with certainty that all three finalists . . . well . . . they all look really cool.

Maybe our favorite was the eSlate, but maybe that's because it was the first one we saw when we walked into the lobby of the Brea Public Library. It definitely was notbecause of the account executive who walked us through the voting process—a tall, dark and harrowing Tony Robbins knockoff who left us with nightmares of being chewed to death by huge, perfect teeth.

The eSlate looks like a Palm Pilot on steroids–about 16 by 11 inches and a little more than five pounds (7.7 pounds with the battery pack)—and is done up in charcoal and gray, with a misty-blue screen and a dynamic red voting button. This exciting dashboard comes wrapped in a sleek, three-sided, easy-fold privacy cover that has pretty much the same fabric and function as those windshield screens you put in your cars on sunny days. Every voter receives a four-number code to input before casting ballots, and Tony Robbins Jr. went into a detailed explanation about the triple-redundancy system that's designed to ensure the sanctity of the voting process. But what we liked most about the e-Slate was the little finger dial, which requires voters to highlight the name of the candidate before pushing the voting button. This two-step process would seem to ensure a more-accurate vote, and spinning the dial is so fun.

Then again, we kind of liked the i-Votronic, too—and we were getting ready to like it a whole lot more, but then regional sales vice president Keith McGinnis found out we were from the Weeklyand cut in front of the two beautiful women who were demonstrating the machine for everyone else. "I want to make sure you truly understand how our system works," said McGinnis, who truly should have been getting the phone number of the eSlate guy's dentist instead.

The iVotronic looks like an Etch A Sketch on Fatburgers—about a foot square but nearly 10 pounds—and accents its charcoal base color with control buttons of green and yellow. Atop the screen is a bright button embossed with the red, raised-letter word, VOTE, which submits the final ballot. But the actual voting is done by touch-screen, and two times we touched the screen too close to a border and a false vote was registered. (Oh, did we mention that the iVotronic was used in Florida's infamous Dade and Broward counties?) The system allowed us to review our ballot, so we could have caught and corrected our error, but lots of us vote before we go to work, and getting there late because we were voting? What boss is going to understand that? Techies will love the Master PEB—that's Personalized Electronic Ballot—that is loaded into the iVotronic by a pollworker before each citizen engages in his or her responsibility to our democracy. We hate Techies.

We were almost experts in computerized voting by the time we arrived at the AccuVote-TS demonstration, so we immediately noticed one of the biggest differences between this system and the others—it's beige.

The AccuVote-TS looks like our old home computer on upgrades—you know, after we got the new black-and-charcoal keyboard and tower but before we could spring for a color-coordinated screen. Then again, we didn't really need a new screen on our home computer, and it turns out the AccuVote-TS has the largest and highest-resolutioned screen of the bunch. This particular model is a touch-screen, which we always seem to hit too hard or too soft, but it worked without a problem when we tried it. The system is activated by a plastic card, like the ones that have replaced room keys at hotels, which contains your political party's ballot. Finally, it's made by Diebold, which already has voting systems in use in 14 jurisdictions in California.

"Our equipment is not just fresh out of the garage," says Seiler. "The issue in all of this is the software that drives these systems, and we're not just testing ours—we're already using it in elections."

Of course, after Florida, that's a double-edged sword—just ask the people from iVotronic. Meanwhile, we couldn't help noticing that the manufacturers of the other two systems had addresses in Texas—the state that sent us George W. Bush. And as our chief executive recently said with such forceful embarrassment: "Fool me once, shame on . . . shame on you. . . . Fool me twice . . . won't get fooled again."

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