Like many states across the country, New York has adopted electronic voting. My experience at the ballot box just a few days ago was a step back in time, harkening back to Florida 2000, when many Americans first heard election terms such as "overvote" and "hanging chad."
Our electronic system introduces New York voters to the paper ballot, on which their votes are recorded and electronically scanned. Prior to 2010, elections in the state have involved pulling levers within mechanical voting machines. To me, voting is a highly personal and private act, and the voting booth affords that privacy with the curtain, which is closed by the voter upon entering the booth by pulling the large red-handled lever.
Today, the booth is replaced with a steel table that's enclosed on three sides for privacy. Unless you crouch over, your face is in view of people waiting in line while you're filling in your ovals with the felt-tip pen provided. If you make a mistake, change your mind or accidentally mark more than one candidate, you'll have to ask for a new ballot and start all over (in front of everyone in the polling place).
Under New York State law you get three chances. Once you've made your selections, you're expected to place your ballot in a cardboard "privacy sleeve" and walk it to the electronic scanner, where a screen visible to anyone present displays overvotes or other errors.
No such privacy lapse exists in the voting booth. Alone with my thoughts and away from impatient glances, I can select and deselect candidates as often as I like, pulling and unpulling levers if I make a mistake or change my mind. I am mechanically prevented from "overvoting," which is voting for more than one candidate for a particular office or pulling the lever for one candidate on multiple party lines.
On the subject of lines, they were always short when mechanical voting was in use. I don't recall ever waiting more than a few moments to get inside the booth, and after a few moments more, being out again. By contrast, this time there were only about eight people in front of me on the line, yet the wait for me to gain access to one of the six "voter privacy stations" was close to 30 minutes.
Electronics replaced the mechanical; it's just the way of things. Instant access to real-time data is today's reality, and if electronic voting is faster, more accurate and secure, then I'm all for it. Change is good, provided it's positive change with a tangible benefit that preserves previous features and capabilities and moves us generally in the right direction. I am not convinced that New York's electronic voting system does that. And I believe we can do better. In fact, I know we can.
E-mail Eddie Correia at Edward.Correia@ec.ubm.com