Cardboard ballot box

Different contest:
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I still remember the first time I voted for president. I was finishing my sophomore year in college, registered in a county 350 miles to the south. On my absentee ballot, I proudly made the requisite mark for the next president of the United States:

Michael Dukakis.

Ah, to be young again …

I physically went to the polls in 1992, when I actually did vote for the next president. The night of the general election, much like this year’s primary, I had the flu, so I spent the evening on the couch watching the results roll in on CNN. Maybe it was the medicine, but I never have felt more hopeful than when the new First Family emerged to the sound of Fleetwood Mac’s “Don’t Stop Thinking About Tomorrow.”

So why am I talking about yesterdays? Because my polling-place experience was so old-school this week that I almost put my key in an ’88 Mustang.

It’s been a while since I last voted on paper. In 2000, Riverside County became the first in California to go electronic. I got to tap a screen to choose the nominee who’d be sabotaged by the Supreme Court, and the nominee who’d self-sabotage by … zzzz … zzzz … zzzz ….

I came up here in 2006, as Butte County Registrar Candace Grubbs encountered—and countered—claims that her machines were faulty. Complaints mostly waned after the November election that gave California secretary-of-statehood to Debra Bowen, who then decertified e-voting.

Tuesday, I headed to the polling place. I counted 12 precinct workers. There could have been more; clearly there were more than last time. I got a refresher course in applying pen ink onto small ovals, followed by a demonstration on how to put my completed ballot between two pieces of heavy paper, stapled at the bottom, with barely enough surface area to cover all the ovals.

That’s not even the odd part:

The ballot box was cardboard.


In ’96, a woman slid my completed card out of a plastic sleeve into a heavy plastic container secured by a padlock. In ’08, a woman gingerly maneuvered a folder over the opening of a corrugated carton secured by … Super Glue, I hope.

I know voting machines are a real concern in this era of superhackers and ruthless corporations. I also know Grubbs is adamant that our machines—with register tapes, sealed yet visible, that spool into locked chambers—are secure.

This I know as well: Scantron sheets and cardboard boxes were fine when I voted for ASB president … but U.S. president?

Look, if we don’t trust our registrars, all bets are off anyway; might as well give ’em 21st-century tools. A technically sound system—independently inspected, with voter receipts and hermetic backups—has a lot more integrity than the box it would come in.