Paper Is A Mature Technology

Well, the blogosphere is heaving today – and mostly with relief, it seems (but that could just be my partisan reading habits coming into play). Whichever way you voted, though, congratulations; the US is the biggest democracy on the face of the planet, and it’s great to see that the system can work the way it is supposed to. Now, if you can just make it plain to the people who decide such things that e-voting is not a mature enough technology to handle such an important process, you’ll be doing the whole planet another big favour.

4 thoughts on “Paper Is A Mature Technology”

  1. Maybe he meant by land-mass, not population? GDP? Ego? We are “bigger” in so many categories…

    Anyway, I totally agree that electronic voting is not a “mature” enough technology to be trusted with our democracy, and I’m glad to see someone raising the issue. Hanging chads may be a pain in the butt, but anyone can count them. When only a fraction of a percent of our population understands the machines that tell us who will lead our country, we have a problem. I would support laws outlawing the use of electronic voting. Keep It Simple, Stupid.

  2. OK, so ‘biggest’ was an inaccurate word for a nebulous concept – what I meant was a sort of mash-up of ‘most powerful/influential/visible’, with a side serving of ‘most instantly associated with the word democracy’ … after a few attempts at trying to batter that into a sentence, I just went with ‘biggest’ because it was easier. My bad. 🙂

    Looking at preliminary rumblings out there in the ‘sphere, I think we’re going to hear a lot more about voting machines in the next few weeks …

  3. I was a precinct inspector at one of Santa Clara county’s polling places last Tuesday (which is why you saw no posts from me that day — that 4:30am to 10:30pm work day really knocks you for a loop). Santa Clara uses Sequoia touch screen machines, so I’ve got some first hand experience with them. Beginning with the last election, all the machines have an attached (and sealed) printer that provides a paper record of all the votes cast on that machine.

    First the good: touch screen machines have the potential to be easier for voters, especially elderly voters, to use. They also make it significantly easier for the Registrar of Voters’ office to count the votes. Easier means more accurate (assuming the machines are properly secured), because the truth is humans aren’t very good at doing tedious, repetitive tasks consistently and accurately. Computers are great at it.

    Now the bad: the user interface on these machines is, in a word, Godawful. I’m pretty sure there was no real usability research done when these machines were designed. Stupid, obvious usability errors are rife. As a result, instead of being easier to use than paper, they’re harder. I spent most of my time answering usability questions from users, and keep in mind this is the heart of the Silicon Valley, amidst a population steeped in microelectronics.

    Second, paper doesn’t break. At about 8:30am, one of the five machines in my precinct stopped accepting smart cards. At about 8:40, a second stopped working. By 9, I was down to 1 working machine. Luckily my field inspector had a spare card activator, which proved to be the source of the problem. But if the problem hadn’t been resolved as quickly as it was, I would have had voters leaving to go to work — that problem wouldn’t exist with paper.

    I think your headline is spot on: paper is a mature technology, electronic voting isn’t. I don’t think we should write off electronic voting altogether, though, just mature it and make it bullet proof.

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