Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Voting anxiety

This morning, I went to vote in another critical election, just like the 2000 and 2004 elections. In past elections, we've gotten a little card which we insert into a book, then we punch the card for our choices. In 2004, I experienced some anxiety while aligning the card correctly--the last thing I wanted to do was fall into the trap of mis-aligning the card and voting for some idiot republican. I felt pretty confident, after checking and double-checking in an almost obsessive-compulsive fashion, then placed my paper punch card in the ballot box. A little scary, but I felt confident that my vote would count. Pennsylvania went blue for Kerry, so my confidence in the paper ballot grew.

This morning, then, I was expecting to see paper ballots again. Wrong.

My little paper punchcard from last time has now been replaced by an "I-tronic" (or something like that) touch-screen machine. That totally disoriented me; I wasn't expecting a machine at all. So in my frightened state, I found it really difficult to read and understand the instructions. Let me give you a little perspective: I have a master's degree in English. I've taught composition and literature at the college level. I'm 42, and I've voted at least twenty times. However, I was just so disoriented and paranoid about this touch-screen machine, I could barely even read the instructions.

So finally I made it out of there after "touching" my way through the ballot, praying the whole time that indeed my votes are recorded, and that they are recorded the way the screen showed them before I touched the "confirm" button. I wrote down the number of my machine on my little stub (my partner Kat told me to). I pray to god the votes are accurately counted this time around. It was really nerve-wracking.

You know, voting in a democracy really shouldn't be that scary. It makes me sad to think I was so intimidated by a stupid computer---but it was what I know about those computers that intimidated me. I can't imagine what people of lower reading and educational levels must think when confronted by those machines. At one point, when you've finally made your selections, this red "VOTE" button at the top of the machine, completely off the screen surface, flashes and beeps at you--loudly. Well, the whole time, I've been touching the screen to indicate my choices, so I'm thinking "what the hell? where's the button on the screen?" Finally, it dawns on me--the flashing button. So I press that. Why wasn't it on the screen?

At the beginning of this process, when I signed in, I was given a card. I kept thinking that somehow this card would be inserted into a slot on the voting machine and something would print or punch-out on it or something--my votes, or some code, or whatever. I kept thinking that this card must have some purpose here in relation to the machine. It did not--at least not that I could see. There was no slot, no nothing. The card had a perforation on it, and I was allowed to keep the top half and had to give the bottom half to the poll helpers. I don't even know what they did with the card; in my panicked and disoriented state I didn't even watch what the lady did with my card. She could've thrown it in the garbage for all I know. At that point, I just had to trust that my "electronic ballot" was flying along a fiber optic network and being counted. Right now, being counted is the most important thing in the world to me.

It's going to be a very long day.