I have to admit, I like paper ballots. But it wasn’t always that way. As a small child, I remember going into the voting booth with a parent, and watching them use those fine old lever machines. They were cool. The curtain made it seem like something both secret and important was happening. The little flippy switches made a satisfying little “tick” sound when you flipped them down to make a selection, and nice “tock” sound if you changed your mind and flipped one back up again. And of course the best part was hearing the thing click and clack after you pulled the big lever.
But although it was cool as a machine, and the whole voting thing was groovy, I had a twinge while looking at the little floppy switches flipping themselves back up again. It was like all this important secret stuff we did in the booth … just sort of evaporated. Sure, the clicking and clacking was the machine “remembering” each vote, but it was odd to see.
Years later when I started to vote myself, I found it very satisfying and reassuring to be using a paper ballot, especially after the run-around I got trying to vote for the first time. I felt more confident seeing a durable ballot recording my votes, and not evaporating.
More recently, experimenting with using a Direct-Record Election device (DRE), it was back to the future, with the ballot evaporating again — and without even seeing a ballot per se, like front panel of the old lever machine. As Doug Jones wrote here recently, our touch-screens are digital DREs just as the lever machines were mechanical DREs. The little paper tapes were certainly an improvement, but flimsy enough that it was a small improvement. If you’re going to print something for me, please have it be a real paper ballot, I thought the first time. So, I now understand that I like the approach of ballot-marking devices used by those that aren’t able to or don’t wish to mark by ballots by hand.
Is there a point to this personal history of feelings about ballots?
A small one, both a link back to my posting about eMailed ballot return, and a future one on Internet voting. The point is that I think that voter confidence depends in part on the voters’ understanding the voting method that they are using. If you ask or allow voters to do something new, but which seems similar to voting that they already understand, then they can “get it” — which is why eMail return makes sense for voters because it’s like vote-by-mail that they understand. So, if people are used to a ballot — as I am — then a change is going to make the most sense if I can still understand where the ballot is, and what happens to it.