Two Cents on Dealing with Our Voting System

Election '04

This election once again showed that the U.S. needs a comprehensive and accurate voting system with a paper trail for accountability. We need not give in and allow for another election to be counted without means of verification. There's a really simple alternative available.

We can do our own re-vote, a kind of "people's election." We can combine old methods with modern technology to produce an accurate count rather easily, quickly, inexpensively, and above all, accurately. No computers, modems, or software is required. The needed resources already exist in your community. There is no need for expensive contracts with professionals; ordinary local people can do the job. Which is fitting; democracy is a do-it-yourself proposition.

To vote using the ancient method, you drop some kind of object – a pebble (black or white) – piece of wood, or a ballotta, "little ball" in Italian, into a container. We still speak of "casting" ballots. Either the ballot or the choice of container can encode the voter's preference.

When everyone has voted (what a concept) we count the ballots. Counting "by hand" is slow and error-prone, but we moderns can use medium-tech devices that are specifically designed for the task and can make short work of it.

To take advantage of this technology we need only to use the lowly, oft-derided, otherwise almost useless penny as our ballot. Pennies are perfect for the use: durable, digital and ubiquitous. The best part is that they can be counted at rates up to 2,300 per minute by special-purpose machines like those in casinos and banks, who would not tolerate them for a minute if they were not reliable and accurate.

These machines are not monsters. The "Rite Count" model CS 95A, for example, weighs 25 pounds and costs $525 American money. If you can't get the local banks to rent or lend them (good PR), pass the hat and buy them. (The Rite Count people don't know I'm telling you this, by the way. And I wish they would fix their spelling.)

As for cost, if your community casts a million votes, at the end of the Sunday you'll have $10,000 cash for such costs as printing various forms, transportation and such. Maybe even pay the volunteers a little something.

Maybe it's appropriate that the penny should come to play the central role in solving this problem. Its monetary value is trivial compared to the information it can carry. Perhaps democracy can be strengthened enough that it can stand up to capitalism after all. Herbert Muller wrote that America's most sacred document is the dollar bill, which may well be true. But the penny may turn out to be more potent.

Send the fascists a little message: We are not as stupid or helpless as you think. If you can't get it right, we can. You are not taking over this time.

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