That’s mostly because I’m outside of the political mainstream in my own country. By no means do I think that voting is the only political act available to me – leaning on my representatives to act on issues important to me, sending money to causes I believe in, and even writing about poker and other topics from my own perspective are all expressly political. But the way I figure it, if I’m tired of the corrupt two-party system that runs my country (and I am) then it’s my responsibility to go out there and pull the lever for independent and third-party candidates.
American political conversation is dominated by the Democrats and Republicans because, for reasons too numerous to go into here, they dominate the electoral statistics. Contributing to a statistical rejection of those parties – something that will be documented in the official records – is only possible through voting. If I don’t vote, I’m not doing everything I can to nudge the country in a saner direction.
Yesterday afternoon I cast an early vote. I had a paycheck to cash, so I thought that while I was out I might as well drive a few more blocks to the local election commission. I work from home so I don’t drive too often. Usually I like to wait until I can run errands in a bunch so I can make the most of my time out of the house.
Finding a parking spot in the crowded lot outside the building took longer than the voting process itself. Americans aren’t quite Germans, but we definitely know how to make things efficient when we decide that’s what we want. The path from the entrance led directly to a poll worker who checked my ID, on to a counter where (as required by federal law) I verified my mail-in voter registration, and then from there directly to the next room with the polling machines. There I handed my registration information to a friendly, older volunteer. He walked with me to the nearest open machine while we made small talk, inserted a security device of some kind into the machine to turn it on, verified that the correct ballot for my district was on the touch-screen, and then left me to cast my vote. I was back outside the building and in my car less than five minutes after I arrived.
The electronic voting machines used where I live in Tennessee are very similar to those used in the state of Ohio. Even if you’ve been paying attention to the election, there’s a good chance you don’t know that Ohio’s secretary of state conducted a test of touch-screen voting machines (and four other electronic voting systems used in the state) in 2007 and reported that all of them were vulnerable to fraudulent misuse. With cabinet locks that can be easily picked and operating systems that readily accept malware, these machines are bigger potential targets for fraud than an unsecured wireless router in a nouveau-riche McMansion. The secretary of state recommended replacing the systems with optical scanners that recorded paper votes, but the touch-screen machines remain in place in Ohio (and many other jurisdictions throughout the country).
It’s clear, though, that most American voters don’t know or don’t care about the potential for abuse with electronic polling machines. All they want is as little hassle as possible, and that’s what they get. I can’t deny that my own voting experience was a smooth one from beginning to end; I walked in, I voted, I left in time for dinner with the wife. I think that’s the aspect that will stick with most Americans who vote on electronic polling machines, particularly the kind of Americans who don’t ask a lot of questions about technology they don’t fully understand. “Hey, that was a lot easier than the old mechanical machines,” I imagine the older ones thinking. “Hey, this is like taking a survey on Facebook,” the younger ones might say to themselves. What I can’t imagine very many of them saying is, “Hey, wait, how do I know that my vote will actually count?”
That’s a very important question, though. In these times, it’s quite possibly the most important. It used to be that fixing an election meant destroying or absconding with actual physical evidence of citizens’ votes; there was the very real danger of being caught in flagrante delicto. Now all it takes to “correct” the people is backdoor access to data that only exists as easily deleted ones and zeroes. As such there is no guarantee that a record of my vote will be counted after the election. That means I can’t say with certainty that I voted yesterday. I can only say that I think I voted. That’s not good enough for me; I just wish it weren’t good enough for my fellow Americans.