The current trend towards touch screen voting, which was touched of by the 2000 presidential election debacle, appears to have peaked, but without anyone actually having learned anything. I figure that by the time the New York times runs an article on why touch screen voting is a bad idea the whole thing has peaked.

Although the article correctly notes that touch screen voting sucks for all of the reasons computers suck — they don’t work — it doesn’t even consider that problem is really with what we want. In other words, like the couple that wants to live near a train station but not near train tracks, what we want is stupid.

Consider this example from “The Limits of Software: People, Projects and Perspectives” by Robert N. Britcher. While designing an air traffic control some ninny thought it would be a good idea to allow controllers to customize their font sizes. Sounds like a good idea at first blush — you want controllers to be comfortable, right? Well, it turns out to be a really bad idea with unintended complications. In air traffic control software it turns out to be really important to know what can be seen by the controller. If you don’t know how large the font is in advance it turns out to be really hard to ensure something can be seen.

What Americans want with their voting system is pretty similar; a nice idea at first blush, but in reality, stupid. We want to know the election results instantly, to make sure that every vote counted matches the intent of the voter, and no fraud. That’s what we want, right?

Well, yes, it is what we want, and it is pretty stupid. For starters, the 2000 election demonstrated that we can do just fine not knowing who the president will be until December. Somehow we survived.

Asking for absolutes in a country with 170+ million registered voters is foolish. Even trying to make sure every votes matches voter intents is stupid — on the order of trying to move a mountain with a teaspoon. It would be better to specify a percentage.Trying to remove all fraud is stupid — we should try to minimize it instead (after all, what would Chicagoans do as a hobby without voter fraud?)

So, what’s the solution? It’s pretty simple.

Simple, arbitrary standards for counting votes. We don’t have to agonize over dimpled or hanging chads, or agonize over how optical ballots are counted.

We don’t agonize over the 18 years who missed voter registration by a day, do we? Or the 17 year olds who would do a better job voting then some 60 year olds. No, we set a simple standard and stick to it.

For punch cards the “system” would involve very large posters at polling places that say:

  • Hanging chads count as votes.
  • Dimpled chad’s don’t count as votes.

You could throw some pictures of bad ballots up too. It doesn’t really matter what the rules are, so long as they are clear and formulated before the election.

Yes, this would disenfranchise some people. I don’t care — the rest of us have some right to an orderly election too.

Advertisements