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Dec 17th
Electoral Laughingstock 2.0 PDF Print E-mail
Written by Jay Beskin, BT Contributor   
December 2018

You’d think we’d get tired of the shame

SPix_JayBeskin_12-18o we had Election Day in Florida, and it went off without a hitch. Like clockwork, especially the kind of clock that is right twice a day. A model of efficiency for the entire country to emulate.

Yes, here and there a glitch appeared to mar the horizon, but there’s no reason to take random snipes at anybody or to mention names. The bottom line: DeSantis gave up his Washington job for a Tallahassee job and Scott gave up his Tallahassee job for a Washington job. And if the performance of the vote-counters occasionally was not according to the manual, those instances are too insignificant to recount.

Well, anyway, that is what we all hoped to hear on Election Night, but somehow things didn’t quite work out as planned.

What we actually had was a brouhaha, an imbroglio, a hullaballoo, a melee, a snafu, a contretemps, a fiasco, every funny-sounding word in the dictionary intended to denote the meeting point between chaos and conflict.

DeSantis was being criticized for using “monkeying” as a verb early in the campaign, but as Election Day rolled around, we were beset by all sorts of monkeyshines, and none of them reflecting well upon us.

“We have been the laughing stock of the world, election after election, and we chose not to fix this,” said Judge Mark Walker in his courtroom, as he tried to blaze some kind of pathway out of the disorder: That phrase “over and over” is intended as a reminder of the 2000 presidential election in which both candidates were four-letter words -- and most of the country used four-letter words as well, to describe the voting and vote-counting processes in our great State of Florida.

Indeed, the aftermath within the state of that election was a profile in political cowardice. After all the dog-and-pony shows from out of state had departed to colder climes, we were left to search our souls for solutions. We simply could not continue an archaic system using punch cards, with styluses that did not always succeed in poking the piece of cardboard -- known as a “chad,” remember? -- from the square or circle. So we stepped confidently into the 21st century and brought in computerized voting.

Each voter got to stand in front of a screen. The races came up one at a time, so no confusion attended each individual plebiscitary decision. You put your finger on the little box next to your candidate’s name, you heard a little electronic beep (more like “bloop”) and a checkmark popped up in the box on the screen. You pressed a “continue” button, and then the next race came up. When you were finished with all the categories, a review screen came up with a list of your votes. If anything had been recorded incorrectly, you could go back and fix it. Only when the list of choices on the screen matched your intentions did you hit the final button, which formalized your vote.

If you are too young or too new to our state to remember that, you have to be scratching your head at this point.

Wait, you mean, we actually had modern computerized electronic voting systems in place after 2000, all the money had been allocated and spent to put these machines in place, and we voluntarily scrapped them and walked backward in time to create a multi-page paper ballot with multiple races and initiatives on the same page, with writing on the front and back of each page, with long, confusing ballot language climbing up and down in small print columns replete with double negatives, with voting done by scribbling in black pen to fill little oblong bubbles like on multiple-choice standardized tests in high school?

The answer, my friend, is yep!

Wow! [Four-letter word.]

For all regular folks, voting on those new machines was an absolute pleasure. Everything was clear, it proceeded smoothly. Less hassle for the voter, less time and effort. Working in a familiar medium, more like filling out a form online than engaging in a tedious and archaic ritual. I did not hear a single complaint from a single friend or acquaintance. Quite the contrary, people were dropping superlatives all over the place and expressing relief that finally the craziness of 2000 was behind us.

Oops, spoke too soon. Suddenly voices, few but loud, were raised in protest. The machines were confusing the old people. Some claimed there were instances when the review screen did not reflect their choice. Paranoiacs imagined that poll workers were rigging the machines in advance, or that hackers could alter votes afterward.

Not a single solid argument was put forward, and to the extent that any point had validity, the obvious solutions involved building failsafe modes into the computerized system. Instead, the worst possible decision was made. We junked order and embraced chaos.

I cannot recall right now if Jeb Bush or Charlie Crist was governor at the time, but whoever it was caved, folded, showed no leadership. Out with the new, and in with the old. Why choose clarity and simplicity when you can have tedium and pandemonium? Why choose modernity and progress when you can have the primitive and the rudimentary?

There are those who claim that the voices raised against the electronic voting were fraudsters who know how to manipulate paper ballots. They wanted to return to a system allowing them the opportunity to cheat. I personally have no reason to suspect that, and that goes into the category of things I hope are not true. But clearly, any fair-minded observer would agree that the current system leaves many more doors open to corrupt behavior. It was an indefensible decision to abandon a working, or at least workable, electronic system.

Hopefully, someone with courage will take us into The Future, Vol. 2. There is no reason we need to kill a forest so that we can all fill out the Election SAT with pen squiggles every time we need to fill a public office. Give us nice computer screens, let all the votes be recorded electronically, so that five minutes after the polls close, every vote is counted other than absentee and military ballots.

All this said, the news was not completely bad. You might recall that in 2000, both Miami-Dade and Broward counties were disaster areas. This time around, our own Miami-Dade County was perfectly efficient and complied with every regulation, every deadline. All the opprobrium was rightly directed at Broward, which showed little sign of having learned any lessons over time.

How about if we use Miami-Dade as a model to fix Broward?

Just a thought.

 

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