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Honolulu Lite

by Charles Memminger

Wednesday, September 27, 2000

Can’t keep a secret
on Election Day

THE lady standing directly ahead of me in line at the polling place on Saturday had voted Republican. The guy in front of her had voted Democrat. I could see that because their allegedly secret ballots had been pulled out of their little blue pajama envelopes and were being flashed around in a way that would have caused a riot in Yugoslavia where they take secret voting seriously.

It's not like I wanted to know how the people ahead of me voted. It's just that it was hard to miss, what with all the colored rectangles clearly denoting each party. I'm sure the guy behind me could see how I voted and the guy behind him could see how he voted, as we all waited to feed our paper-sheet ballots into the nifty new computerized voting machines.

If you didn't vote, which probably is the case since six out of 10 people skipped the primary election, let me tell you what voting in this brave new world of modern election technology is like: stupid.

It is supposed to be like this: You take your ballot into one of the secret booths, mark your choices, slip the ballot into a sleeve or envelope that keeps your voting secret, walk across the room to the voting machine, tear off your receipt and feed the sheet, still covered from all probing eyes, into the machine, which looks suspiciously like a computerized paper shredder.

What actually happened, at least where I voted, was that after marking your ballot, you walked toward the machine and a helpful precinct worker whipped your ballot out of its protective blue envelope, allowing anyone who wanted to, like me for instance, see who you voted for.

STICKING the ballot into the machine takes some physical dexterity, which means a lot of people didn't get it right on the first try. It was too hard to keep the blasted ballot in the secret blue envelope while trying to feed the blasted ballot into the machine, so the helpful precinct worker took it on himself to pull people's blasted ballots out well before it was time to feed them into the machine. Sure, some secrecy was lost, but it sure sped up the operation!

Sometimes, the ballot would sit there, not feeding into the machine, allowing gawkers a good long look. (Hmm. Another vote for Jeremy.)

The shredding machine analogy isn't far off. More than 9,000 votes didn't count because the forms weren't filled out right. If you were one of those who cast an absentee ballot and accidentally chose candidates in more than one party, you did not vote, you merely created bird-cage liner. If you made the same mistake at the polling place, the machine spit your ballot back out and you were given a second chance. Plus, you got scowled at by everyone else in line for slowing down the process. This apparently was too much pressure for some non-technologically inclined who just gave up and left.

The Office of Elections, of course, thought everything went swell. Sure there were a few glitches, a few thousand voters, all right, 9,600 voters, lost or screwed up their right to take part in a democratic election. But, boy were the results counted fast! Look what's happening in Yugoslavia. All those tedious secret non-computerized ballots are still being tallied days later. What a bunch of backward yahoos.

State officials keep telling us not to worry. That we'll get through these glitches eventually. When will they realize that these are supposed to be the real thing: actual democratic elections in which every citizen is GUARANTEED a vote? They treat it like it's just practice.

Charles Memminger, winner of
National Society of Newspaper Columnists
awards in 1994 and 1992, writes "Honolulu Lite"
Monday, Wednesday and Friday.
Write to him at the Honolulu Star-Bulletin,
P.O. Box 3080, Honolulu, 96802
or send E-mail to

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