New Voting Machines: Report from the Trenches

09/14/2010 10:28 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

I just returned from voting in the primary election -- for the first time using the new, federally mandated, three-step paper ballot optical scanner vote counting device. And I'm not sure how well this will work in the long run. I went to my polling location and signed into the voter registry like I've always done. Then, one of the election clerks peeled off a ballot from a stack of ballots -- and handed it to me and directed me to a free-standing three sided table to fill out my ballot. There I found something akin to a Sharpie indelible marker (the smudge hasn't come off my hand yet). Completing the ballot is easy if you've ever filled out an absentee ballot or taken a standardized test. But then -- and here's where the multitudinous breakdowns will occur -- I had to slip the completed ballot into some absurd, cumbersome, oversized file folder. I then handed the file folder to another election clerk (privacy issues, anyone?) who made sure to have the correct end of my ballot stick out of the absurd, cumbersome, oversized file folder. Then the clerk (not me) shoved the end of the ballot (and not the absurd, cumbersome, oversized file folder) into the optical scanner. This act of insertion was quite similar to how you stick a dollar bill into a vending machine (which inevitably, 3 out of 4 times, spits your dollar back out at you, especially if you're really thirsty) -- and voila! My vote was cast -- or so it seems.

While I found the process relatively easy, any process that contains multiple steps is quite likely to break down somewhere along the line. But the most concerning aspect of my voting experience today was that it was relatively easy for the assisting election clerk to see who I voted for -- since he/she is integral to the process of getting the ballot scanned in. That will need to be fixed. Stay tuned for the inevitable deluge of problems and complaints.