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How do you vote?
Author: TriSec    Date: 10/22/2016 11:13:41

Good Morning.

Thirty-two Novembers ago, I was getting ready to cast my very first Presidential Ballot. It was 1984; perhaps you remember the times. At that precocious political age, I was dead-set against the incumbent, so I cast my ballot for a gentleman from Minnesota. We all know how well that went. Further down the ticket in this Commonwealth were a couple of names that you probably have heard of. Governor Michael Dukakis and his running mate, an unknown John Kerry. I would presume Paul Tsongas was on that ballot, too. (I don't live in his district.)


In those days, we used something called a "Vote-o-Matic." It's the old punch-card system we all know and love. It seems like old technology, but it was actually developed in the 1960s to take advantage of the tabulating computer systems that were being developed then. While we never really had any issues with them in Massachusetts, these instruments would go on to greater fame and fortune in the Sunshine State some sixteen years later.

When I left my hometown of Saugus, the next town over in Revere also used these antiquated ballots. It wasn't until I moved to the City of Waltham in 1996 that we started using those old mechanical lever machines. This is actually even older technology than the punch-card ballots that I used to use, but they had the advantage of being foolproof and unhackable. I used this machine for a few years, until Massachusetts decided it was time to upgrade.


Massachusetts prides itself on its high tech industries, but when it comes to voting the state is decidedly low-tech -- and proud of it.

All communities in the state are required to use paper ballots, and while most use mechanical scanners to tally the results, 65 towns -- including Berlin, Carlisle, Essex, and Plympton -- still count the ballots by hand.

So as election officials elsewhere in the country are anxiously wrestling with worries about computer hacking and rigged results, officials here are feeling secure, and a mite smug.

“Without fear of any contradiction there is no hacking possible in our voting processes,” Secretary of State William Galvin said in a recent interview. “Because of our diligence in having a paper system that is verifiable, it can’t be hacked.”

The optical scan system used in Massachusetts dates back to the 1960s and “reads” penciled-in choices -- similar to the way SAT tests are scored. The state has approved six models of optical scanners since 1993, the most recent iteration getting the official OK in 2014.

Galvin said he outlawed punch card ballots three years before the “hanging chads” from incompletely punched ballots in Florida roiled the 2000 presidential election. And he said he resisted the ensuing national push for computerized voting because of concern that the devices were untested and potentially unreliable and hackable.

“I felt the best situation was what we ended up with -- an actual ballot in which you can see who you are voting for and it’s retained as an individual record,” he said. If there’s a disputed close election, the ballots are available to check by hand, he said.


This is the system we now use in Waltham. I've you've ever taken a standardized test (with a #2 pencil, of course) then you're familiar with the system.

I well remember when the Diebold machines were in the headlines. Think about this - your ATM was made by Diebold. When you do a transaction, you get a printed receipt, don't you? The technology already exists to record electronically and produce a paper trail; the bigger question is why don't they want to do it?

So on this next November 8, I will eschew my normal practice of trying to be voter #1 in my precinct. Instead, I'll be across town at another site working the polls.

Last time, I was up front with the book, making sure we kept to the one person - one vote rule. I did this during the presidential primary earlier in the year, and despite all the histrionics pushed by the GOP, we had precisely 3 instances of voter trouble, and that was because there is an official "Independent" party here. A couple of voters thought they were not party affiliated, but they were...and they couldn't cast a ballot for either Democrat or Republican on that day.

Later in the day, our Ward Captain sealed all the doors, and we opened up the scanner. She pushed a few buttons, and it spat out the day's summary of votes. In the meantime, I went scrumming through the bin and organized all the physical ballots, just in case we needed to count them by hand. (we didn't.)

It was quite efficient. The polls closed at 8pm, and I was back home checking the news before 9:30.

So what's your experience?

3 comments (Latest Comment: 10/22/2016 22:46:05 by Raine)
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