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11/2/2004
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E-Voting? From Electronic Pads to Felt-tip Pens

The security and integrity of electronic voting machines has been put into question during the past two years, and within the next day or so we'll learn if the new touch-screen voting contraptions prove troublesome or helpful. What's been your high-tech (or low-tech) voting-technology experience? Here's a sampling from InformationWeek editors around the country today.

The security and integrity of electronic voting machines has been put into question during the past two years, and within the next day or so we'll learn if the new touch-screen voting contraptions prove troublesome or helpful. What's been your high-tech (or low-tech) voting-technology experience? Here's a sampling from InformationWeek editors around the country today.Surprisingly few have voted electronically:

Wisconsin In suburban Milwaukee -- a city where both Bush and Kerry held rallies Monday just hours and blocks apart -- voters used plain, old pen-and-paper as they cast ballots in this critical swing state. Using a felt-tip marker labeled "Ballot Pen," voters made their marks, then put ballots through an optical reader that told them if it was accepted or rejected, such as if it had double-voted candidates. Long lines in the morning thinned to little or no waiting at mid-day.

New York "I just got back from voting and had to make two trips as they couldn't find me in the registry. Additional paperwork sorted that problem out. However, interestingly within minutes of entering the polling station for the second time, a federal representative approach me, presented his credentials, and told me that he had monitored my initial problem and wanted to know if anyone had tried to turn me away. Obviously things are being watched very closely," reports one InformationWeek editor.

California "San Francisco is all paper, and a cumbersome ballot it is, with 16 state initiatives to ponder. My polling place is a single bay garage of a house, where there is not enough room for people to both establish their identity at the table and make it past the people executing their votes in the little curtained booths. What an archaic system. Two people left the line, frustrated at the wait, and this was between 7:15-7:30 a.m., with the polls having just opened at 7 a.m. A lot of people are going to walk away today because they can't afford the time involved in our horse and buggy voting system."

And another InformationWeek Californian voter: "You are given an authorization code to punch in before casting your ballet. a flat spin wheel on the bottom left corner of the machine lets you move forward or backward through the ballet. another button is used to mark your choice. it's not intuitive, so you need to read the five sentences of instructions before making a selection .But overall, this editor liked the way the E-voting system worked.

Virginia "One of the election officials turned to me just as I was about to go over to vote and gestured to one of the terminals that had just crashed and had someone working on it who said "Technology. It's great when it works, but it doesn't always work!" Of the eight touch screen stations they had set up, one was working when I got there but went on the fritz (don't know how, but the screen was blank) about the time I approached my turn to vote."

Texas This editor voted about 10 days ago on an electronic pad and found it a bit clunky and not as easy use as it could be. "I don't think the pads are designed very well," this editor reports. "And not voting in a specific race (because you didn't like any of the candidates) seemed to cause the machine some problems."

Massachusetts Massachusetts -- as is also most of New England, is paper ballots and scanning technology. "Bad flashbacks to taking my SATs...," says this editor.

At least one editor, voting in New York, had a much easier, if not less embarrassing voting experience this election than his last. This editor used one of the steel machines where a lever is pulled to cast his vote. "Luckily, the wheels were locked on this one. Last time, I dragged the booth a couple of feet across the gym while trying to throw the lever," he says. "I left the booth trying to look like nothing had happened."

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