I just returned from my polling place. I feel I could have done a better job of being aware of local issues earlier and taking opportunities to discuss the candidates with the small number of people I know who'd be voting on the same tickets and gotten a better sense of the relative merits of the candidates. I did find the relevant debates for the local community access TV station and listen to them, however, and formed an opinion. It helped that for one position there were two candidates, one of whom came across as a single-issue candidate with a stance I was dubious about.
But what I really want to talk about is the voting process. I forget if I mentioned this last year, but it bears repeating: my Ward makes voting really simple and straightforward, in a way that gives me good confidence in the accuracy of the machine-tabulated results, and in a way that leaves a strong paper-trail which would be simple and straightforward to count manually should it be necessary.
You walk into the polling place. A person asks you for your address and name, locates it in the check-in book, and marks you as having entered. You can see all of this. You are handed a ballot in a "privacy sleeve".
You then walk to an empty booth, which is basically a table with walls dividing it into four parts, which you stand at while filling out your ballot. There is a black felt-tip pen there. You slide the ballot out of its sleeve, mark it with the marker, and slide it back into the sleeve.
To elaborate, marking the ballot consists of drawing a dark line from the tail to the head of the arrow pointing at the name of the candidate you wish to vote for. That's it. Using instruments [pen and paper] that most Americans are reasonably proficient in, in a straightforward way. If you want to see more about how that works, the ballot can, at least at present, be seen here. They've made it pretty hard to vote for the wrong person, and it seems to me that ambiguous ballots would be fairly rare. There are even clear instructions with examples provided at the top of the ballot.
Then you walk over to the exit area. You tell the person there your address and name, and they mark you in their book, just like when you came in. Then you walk over to the machine. It has a little green light showing it's ready, and a prominently displayed number which is presumably the count of ballots it has accepted. You feed your ballot out of the privacy sleeve and into the machine using the slot which runs most of the length of the sleeve. This is probably the most difficult part of the process, and I have to take on faith that they have people reasonably trained to assist without violating privacy if somebody needs help. It should be pretty doable. The slot doesn't line up with the arrows. The machine feeds in your ballot, makes a little noise, and another light lights up and you can see the counter increase. You're done.
Some highlights of the system:
- You mark the ballot directly, and can thus see that it is what you intend.
- A machine counts the votes, reducing needed manpower and potential for human error.
- There is a clear paper trail should a recount be called for.
- You don't need multiple computers to allow multiple people to fill out their ballots at the same time.
- Privacy can be readily offered without interfering with the effectiveness of the system [if you wanted more private booths fr marking the ballot, they could certainly be provided; ditto when you're feeding your single ballot into the machine].
I've heard tell of electronic voting machines with touch screens which silently accept input. I'd like to say, for the record, this is terrible design. I personally have a lot of trouble with touchscreen input for some mysterious reason presumably related to my skin chemistry. I also have very steady hands. But I would not trust that the input a touchscreen had accepted would be what I had intended: anything like this must have a feature which makes it clear to the user what input it received, not just that it received valid input. This is true for anything using a touchscreen for input.
The system we use here in Somerville Ward 6 might not be the best one out there, I don't know, but it's the best one I've ever personally used, and it at least passes basic tests of not totally sucking. Whoever was on that search committee, good work.