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Computers cause election conflict

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Nicole Knight, Editor in Chief

Nicole Knight, Editor in Chief

Scandal, corruption, controversial propositions, vicious campaigns and recounts are enough to worry about during any election. However, during this 2006 midterm election, technology swooped in to add another layer of drama.

Even before the results were in, news Web sites streamed stories of conflict at the polls. Long waits, jumbled screens and sleepy computers were replaced with the old-fashioned paper ballot. Nearly 40 percent of Americans were predicted to vote electronically on Tuesday, a number aiming to produce struggle.

“Four years after Congress passed a law requiring every state to vote by a method more reliable than the punch-card system that paralyzed Florida and the nation in 2000, the 2006 election is shaping up into a contest not just between Democrats and Republicans but also between people who believe in technology and those who fear machines cannot be trusted to count votes in a closely divided democracy,” wrote Michael Duffy in his CNN.com’s story, “Can this machine be trusted?”

And if the paper ballot can’t be trusted and the electronic ballot is under scrutiny, how will America vote?

Polling places across the country dealt with some sort of technological headache throughout Tuesday. As stations opened, the computers refused to work creating delays and disgruntled voters.

My voting experience at my polling place in Rancho Cucamonga’s fire station could not have been more opposite. In approximately 15 minutes, I was in and out of the booth with my “I voted electronically” sticker on my chest. Ever since I began voting three years ago, I have voted with the all-too-simple touch screen.

And when I heard other places were having this difficulty, all I could do was roll my eyes. With all that’s at stake and the months of divergence beforehand, couldn’t they at least get the voting method right?

I can only speak for what I read, but it seemed like polling place workers were not trained sufficiently enough to operate and troubleshoot on these computers. And even if the operator’s manual was not up to par, these computers should be simple enough to turn on with a flip of a switch.

A first impression of electronic voting sparks a notion of efficiency and improvement over the aged paper ballot. However, with the entire unnecessary nuisance, our forefathers may have had it right.

Computers operate airports, power plants and space shuttles, but they can’t work properly to calculate a nation’s decision on one day? And given, sorting 80 million votes is no easy task, but today’s computers have reached that mark of intelligence – more so than the public probably even knows.

With paper ballots we worry about the hanging chads and human error. And with electronic ballots, hackers and lacking computer knowledge plague our trust. It’s hard to say which is better. Although both have offensive and defensive arguments consider what the future holds. Everything is moving to computers and it was inevitable voting would follow. As technology advances so should voting methods.

The decisions made on any Election Day change lives. Voters have plenty to be concerned with in contemplating their decision before stepping in a poll booth and watching the results unfold later that night. Stepping away from the poll booth should not cause feelings of mistrust and apprehension. It is hard enough to encourage Americans to even vote. The least we can do is make the process easier and trust that every vote matters.

Nicole Knight, a senior journalism major, is editor in chief of the Campus Times. She can be reached by e-mail at nknight@ulv.edu.

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