Digital Slob

Curt Brandao

Sunday, October 31, 2004

Voting booth
not the place
to save paper

During a recent online fishing expedition for fresh celebrity gossip (FYI: It seems Ashlee Simpson could have a complete nervous breakdown on stage any day now -- as soon as her producers lay down a guide vocal for it), my eye glanced a news link that reminded me of something that, in its own way, is almost as important.

We're electing a president Tuesday.

Or, at the very least, we're kicking off the opening ceremonies in what voting-rights lawyers are already calling the Quadrennial Equal Protection Litigation Olympics.

This is a stressful election. No one dares imagine a world with the other guy in charge. Go out in the middle of an open field at night, stand still, remain completely silent and you might hear the faint sound of the nation's collective teeth grinding.

I drove by one civic-minded pedestrian last week who seemed to be letting off steam, field-testing an election-inspired Halloween costume. Three or four political yard signs were stabbed in his belly and protruding out his back. It was hilarious social commentary and very realistic. Moments later it felt a bit too realistic, but before I could check my mirrors I'd already merged onto the highway.

Knowing that every vote counts empowers Respectable People, but for Digital Slobs, it's almost too much to bear. If your spine-chilling fears about the fate of all humankind has forced you to replace sleep with late-night reruns of "Hardball" on MSNBC for the last six months, consider this: Who becomes the next leader of the free world might hinge on whether hundreds of thousands of registered Slobs can find their neighborhood's elementary school cafeteria on Yahoo! Maps.

And there's a 100 percent chance a huge minority (or small majority -- again) will be in the throes of voter remorse when their guy loses, a kind of post-partisan depression. This feeling of hopelessness, or the massive hangover after an attempt to muffle its effect, is unavoidable. But one choice we can make is sure to soften the blow a bit.

While political experts disagree on who is the best candidate, almost all computer experts agree on how best to vote: without computers.

We may eventually create a paperless society, but those who know plenty about data security say we are far, far away from creating a paperless democracy.

Never mind computer glitches, without a paper trail, would-be election hackers can be almost as cagey at covering their tracks as Murphy's Law, and they needn't be in a secret society that's any more elite than their high school chess club.

Most teens can't take part directly in the election, but it might take only a handful -- with chips in their mainframes as powerful as the ones on their shoulders -- to decide it outright.

Sure, they could get cocky and slip up. If they make Tim Russert announce that the projected winner in Florida is Howard Stern, we'll know something is up. But barring that, the proprietary software in most of these electronic voting machines will keep election officials completely in the dark, maybe on purpose. They got their fill of the spotlight while staring cross-eyed at hanging chads four years ago, after all.

Therefore, even for Slobs in the Digital Age, the best way to judge all the intangibles of this election is with a tangible ballot. Take a pen to the polls, and with any luck we can soon turn off "Hardball" and get some sleep.

See the Columnists section for some past articles.
Also see www.digitalslob.com

Curt Brandao is the Star-Bulletin's production editor. Reach him at: cbrandao@starbulletin.com



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