Friday, October 21, 2005

Decline and Fall of the Grey Behemoth

Way back about 33 years ago when I was in Kindergarten, a series of large grey metal carts with short curtains mysteriously appeared in the hallway outside of my classroom. I knew little about them other than that they were needed for some kind of vague holiday called "Election Day". It wasn't much of a holiday for me because there were no decorations or cake or presents or anything fun about it, really. Election Day was just as cold, metallic and grey as the big metal carts that only adults were allowed to touch.

I also remember being aware that a man named Nixon was President of the United States before the grey carts appeared, and he was still President after they went away.

A few years later, my mother or father (but never both together) would take me into the carts to show me what was inside. They were some kind of machines with lots of little levers next to red letter "X"'s just behind the short curtain. Some of the levers had the names of strangers next to them. My mother or father would click a few levers, hit a red button, the curtain would open, and then we would have to leave.

I liked being inside of that machine. Some people go nuts in any kind of confined space, but I felt secure. I wouldn't go so far as to say that I have claustromania, but I definitely do not suffer from claustrophobia.

Over the two decades following my stint in Kindergarten, I learned the purpose of the grey curtained carts, and of the machines with the levers and the names and the red "X"'s. Twelve years after Kindergarten, I was allowed to go behind the curtain alone for the first time ever. I understood quite well what a voting machine was and how to cast my votes. I wasn't very clear on who to vote for, mainly because most of the names were still strangers to me, but there were plenty of people standing around outside of the polling place eagerly telling me who to vote for, and handing me cards with the names of the candidates in case I forgot who they were when I went behind the curtain.

I usually don't vote for the people named on the card, mainly because my mind is already made up before I go into the booth. Election Day campaign literature is for uninformed idiots.

By now I have been using the large grey metal carts to vote longer than I was relegated to watching my parents do it. I'm over the hump, you might say. Another Election Day is coming up next month, and its going to be the end of an era. Voting around here is going to change starting next Spring. For the first time in my life, the old faithful grey behemoths will be gone from our polling places:

Allegheny County officials are racing a deadline to replace the venerable lever-operated voting machines that will see their last general election next month.

Federal legislation impelled by the presidential cliffhanger of 2000 requires that approved voting machines be in place by next May's primary.

The controversy over hanging chads in Florida, and the resulting spotlight on the untidiness of voting procedures across the country, led Congress to mandate nationwide balloting standards designed to ensure accuracy, security and accessibility at polling places.

Stupid Florida! The state shaped like a thingy dangling off of southeastern America had to go and ruin it for the rest of us. I liked the old voting machines. They worked well. I never had a problem in twenty years of voting. We never had punch ballots with chads or some other primitive form of casting votes. We flicked switches, and that was it. But maybe it was time for a chance anyway. If those machines have been around since I was little, then maybe they are a bit long in the tooth to keep around.

Officials say the 850-pound curtained behemoths familiar to Allegheny County voters have years of life left in them. They were doomed, nonetheless, by the standards of the 2002 legislation, the Help America Vote Act. In replacing them, the county faces a multimillion-dollar decision that it hopes will govern its citizens' voting experiences for a generation.

At a meeting of the Allegheny County Board of Elections yesterday, officials expressed unease over some of the uncertainties surrounding that decision.

They are right to be concerned. What a stinking waste! "If it ain't broke don't fix it" obviously has no meaning to the federal government, possibly because the poor usage offends the snob lawyers who keep getting elected to Congress. They'd rather pass some feel-good legislation with a fruity title like "Help America Vote" that is going to eat a huge chunk out of the nation's tax revenues. And piss off local officials...and local voters. Of course the transition is going to be anything but smooth.

Allegheny County, like other election jurisdictions across the state and the nation, faces practical as well as legal deadlines. County officials must make their decision in time to ensure delivery of the equipment needed to replace the nearly 3,000 voting machines that have been used since the 1960s. The county will be placing its order at the same time as counties across the country.
I work at a job that involves ordering for a large institution. Some of my orders are for large quantities of furniture and equipment that cost thousands of dollars. I know for a fact that if something is in high demand and you need to have it in by a certain date, but everyone in the country is trying to order one at the same time as you, it's almost dead certain that it arrive before you need it. I hope the county places the order ASAP so that whatever these new machines are can be in place by next year's primary.

On the other hand, maybe not. Maybe I hope that the order comes in too late. I like the old grey metal carts.

No comments: