Voting the modern way

No more turning wheels when you vote in Brazoria County

By John Toth / Editor and Publisher

I did something very important the other day. I cast a vote in the primary elections. I didn’t have to stand in line; the election clerks were friendly and polite, and I was in and out in about 10 minutes.

I really like what Brazoria County has done at the election locations. It equipped them with new voting machines. No more turning the wheel on the bottom. The touchscreen is much better.

Those pesky wheel-controlled machines worked well for many years. If my memory serves me correctly, they replaced the punch cards.

Each time I voted using the old machines, I stepped away from the booth and made a comment to one of the clerks that the touch-screen is broken.

Now that I was standing in front of a new touch-screen voting machine, I stepped away from it and asked the clerk: “Where is the wheel on the bottom?”

Just a joke. Please don’t bring the old machines back. I’d rather do the punch-card method than wheel-turning.

I know that they were ostracized after the 2000 elections, but I liked punch-card voting. I never knew that hanging chads could be a problem. I never saw a hanging chad the entire time I voted like that.

The only problem was when I made a mistake and needed a new ballot. The old paper punch card had to be voided and a new one assigned. Now we just change the vote on the screen before finalizing it.

Former Brazoria County Clerk Dolly Bailey told me once that she never had a problem with hanging chads, either. After a very close race when the loser called for a recount, Dolly was confident there wouldn’t be any changes once the cards were run through again.

The winner actually picked up a few more votes. I think it was two or three.

The surest way to eliminate hanging chads or electronic tampering is to go back to paper ballots. But that would take too long to count, so we’re not doing that. We don’t want to wait several days for election results. We want to know the results on election night, hopefully by 10 p.m.

In 1972, the first election I voted in, I had to step inside a booth and flip mechanical switches. When I was done, I had to pull a big arm to record the vote.

Back in those days, we didn’t have Internet hackers. The word Internet would not be generally known for several more decades.

In 1976, I worked at a phone bank the three major television networks organized and handled calls reporting election results from all over the country. We filled out a form with the numbers and handed them off to another person. After a few more handoffs, all those numbers played a key role in projecting races.

We got paid pretty well for that night’s work. The problem was staying awake when the phones were silent. But we got through it, and I hope I wrote all the numbers down correctly. Technology has long replaced those college student phone banks.

If you voted this time, pat yourself on the back. Those of us who did have earned the right to complain, which I for one do exercise once in a while. Those who sat this round out, you still have the runoffs in some races, city and school elections and the general election in November. Those fancy new machines make the process very convenient.

Back to paper ballots, I did participate in my high school student council election in which we used paper ballots. The Russians must have hacked that election, though, because somehow each party received more votes than there were students in the school that day.

We won that race and did stuff that student councils did back in the early 1970s. We organized demonstrations and walkouts.

We also promised better school lunches, but that flew quickly out the window. As it turned out, none of us wanted to tangle with the cafeteria lady. She was strong.