As a reader of Government Technology magazine, every month you can count on great stories, written by overworked and underpaid staff, about the rapidly changing technology landscape and how it all fits into the government sector. But what isn't often covered are the stories of government programs and projects that don't benefit from technology and are in fact hindered by it.
Case in point. At the time of this writing, millions of Americans are casting their vote for some number of politicians who, if elected, will immediately begin spending their time preparing for the next election. As feared, reports are streaming in that electronic voting machines are malfunctioning. The machines caused so much frustration that a poll worker in Kentucky attacked a voter; while in Pennsylvania an aggravated voter simply destroyed the infernal thing by smashing it to bits. After the 2000 presidential election -- the one where thousands of regular folks were outsmarted by simple punch card ballots -- people who believed they knew better started clamoring for electronic voting machines. These people, from all political backgrounds, demanded that the most sacred and solemn duty in democracy be done on a complicated piece of technology instead of a simple, reliable piece of paper.
Here we are, six years later, and the day's headlines speak of votes being miscast, being changed, and worries of the voting machines being hacked. In fact, Fox News recently had a live demonstration of an electronic voting machine being hacked in 10 seconds. Electronic voting machines are a much too complicated solution to a very simple problem. If there are people out there voting that are too stupid to use a punch card correctly, then the solution is not to give them a freakin' computer. Instead, why not try to keep it even simpler?
Toss the computers, toss the punch cards, toss everything but paper and pencil. On the ballot should be the following, in English: the name of the candidate/measure/proposition in 28 point font. Next to that would be two equally large empty boxes, one for yes and one for no. Above and below them, the names and boxes would have very thick, black lines that clearly separate the candidates/measures/propositions. All voters would be asked to do is make some kind of mark in the box they chose. Not a fill-in, not an X -- just a mark of any kind. If the voters can't operate a pencil, they can scratch the box with their fingernails. If a voter somehow marks both yes and no, then the vote is tossed in the same pile as the computers and punch cards.
Add to that a few new laws such as: Anyone with a job who wants to volunteer to work the polls would be paid a normal day's wage by their employer without using any vacation or sick time; every registered voter would be given the option of absentee voting; and every damn ballot, by law, would be the same.
For Pete's sake, even Iraq has a more reasonable voting system than we do. And now, we're stuck with these horrible voting machines. Technology for technology's sake is a foolish philosophy. Admittedly technology can be -- and has been -- the solution to a lot of problems. But sometimes it isn't the right solution, and other times, it's just plain stupid.