As I recover from hand surgery, here’s another blast from the Monkeyfist Past. Alas, PA got rid of the big mechanicals.
My taste for irony sometimes finds a bit of unexpected sweetness in bitter experience or a dash of salt in singularly bland events. So it was today as I voted for the first time in Maryland in our pathetic midterm elections. I could discern no Greens on my ballot, so I voted mechanically for Democrats and those with female looking names. I don’t think my vote made any difference, much less a difference I even marginally care about. [Ed note: current me grew up and is very happy voting straight Democrat.]
It’s not clear that I even got that smidgin of personal satisfaction stemming from my childhood training in “civil virtue” — Yay, I’m a good citizen! I’m part of the process! The founders did not fight and die in vain! — On the other hand, while I don’t think I would have felt guilt at failing that taught duty, I probably would have felt odd at not feeling guilt. I guess I feel a gray satisfaction in acting in conformance with my old internalized standards, even if the motive forces have shifted. This is part of aging, I suspect; I will try to look forward to the next erosion of character.
One thing that used to perk me up for voting was playing with the voting machines. In Pennsylvania, we had voting machines as nature intended: big, hulking, industrial slabs of iron with big, heavy mechanical levers and an institutional green curtain wrapping around round like a hospital privacy screen. These things were big enough — as anyone who’s fairly adventurous or who’s seen Pecker knows — to have sex in. When you voted in one of these booths you knew you were in the rust belt and that US democracy was part and parcel of the Industrial Revolution.
In North Carolina I used little forms and felt pens: somewhat like the SAT, except with no ability to erase and no chance of a decent grade. We voters would fill out our ballots at little fold-out stands with mini-drapes — stands clearly meant to be folded up and stacked in the back of a station wagon or SUV. The ballots then got fed into a cooler-sized box which would slurp and flash a red LCD tally of slurps. I don’t know if scanning occured in these boxes, and I really didn’t care. Even more than the general character of North Carolina politics, this procedure made voting a bit hard to take seriously.
So now I live in Maryland, working in a Semantic Web research lab. As befits my post-industrial, information-age work, Maryland has touch-screen, computer-based voting machines. Though they, like North Carolina, have the little fold up stands; you’d think that the proximity to DC would inspire people to be a bit inspiring, what with all the monuments. The ‘puter-based machines did perk me up a little, as I still have a few habits left from my techno-toy influenced youth. The machines ran ugly Windows apps but seemed otherwise reasonable until the very last screen. It presented a scrolling window with an overview of my selection, a big blue button on the left for revisiting my choices, and a big green button smack dab underneath the down arrow on the scroll bar reading “CAST BALLOT”.
To add to the moment, there was a faint, pastel, small line of text along the top, which said something like “Be careful when scrolling down not to accidentally cast your ballot”.
Windows programming in embedded systems must be even harder than I thought if they couldn’t have switched the buttons or simply moved the button to the center of the screen where there was plenty of space, or put a confirmation screen between the review screen and the act of casting your ballot.