Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Voila! Voting Made Easy

This NY Times piece by Sewell Chan is a glimpse into the voting future, a real fingernail biting view of what's in store for democracy's next generation:

The direct-recording electronic system is not inherently flawed, the report found, but when it is combined with full-face ballots, there seems to be more difficulty, particularly in areas with more black, Hispanic and low-income voters.

Such voters, according to the report, would find it easier to use digital machines that allow voters to make one choice and then flip to the next page, which is similar to what customers do at A.T.M.’s and airport check-in kiosks that dispense boarding passes. But the full-face requirement precludes the use of such machines.

Obviously, the "digital divide" rears its ugly head once again. But, it's not as simple as that. First: one can argue that the implication here is that people of color are too stupid to figure out basic technology; it's not like electronic voting machines are high end. The problem with the "digital divide" debate is that it fails to make distinctions between accessability and level of aptitude. Since there are more African Americans (particularly between the ages of 18-25) playing videogames and watching TV (which is becoming mostly HDTV and representing a platter of multimedia offerings) as compared to their White and Latino counterparts, this blog won't be so quick to underestimate the ability of African Americans to use electronic voting machines. What about poor White communities for that matter? Or, whenever we talk about low-income, the assumption is that it automatically corresponds with someone Black or Brown.

The problem with the discourse on electronic voting technology is the focus on user-friendliness rather on a more significant issue: accessability. While focused on the fundamentals of push-button voting booths, we may be ignoring the trend to limit the number of polling locations, a move that greatly diminishes access to the voting machine. Why trip on the voting technology if most of us can't get to it?

However, the Brennan Center study makes a cogent, empirically-driven case. Which is why opponents of electronic voting, particularly in the African American political establishment, are going to have to go way beyond simplistic voter registration drives and launch the mammoth task of a more comprehensive voter & civics education movement. The reality is that electronic voting technology won't be going anywhere anytime soon - in fact, it's the standard. The real issue, in terms of the technology, is ensuring it's secure enough to tabulate fair results without interference from hacking. But, think about it: did we need e-voting machines to make that point in the first place? It's old wine in a new bottle ...