Last Tuesday, I voted for the first time in an American presidential election. No, I’m not a college student. I’m a 50-year-old college professor. But I am an immigrant from Canada of recent naturalization.
I entered my polling place at a local school to take part in the American experiment in self-government, that great historical anomaly, that rare blessing from heaven by which we have the privilege of choosing those who govern us and of holding them accountable by the ballot box.
But what I saw left me amazed that the Land of Liberty would be so careless with its foundations.
In New York State, voting looked like this. Just inside the gym, a poll worker asked me, “What’s your address?” I gave it. “You vote at table number 2.” I told those folks my name, put my signature beside my name, and they gave me a ballot. No ID required. I could have been anyone. If I knew that a neighbor was registered but not going to vote, I could have voted under his name. The integrity of the vote is too fundamental to our liberty for that level of trust.
The actual voting process was both annoying and disturbing. The line was long because people needed a lot of instruction in how to fill out the ballot and then insert it in the scanner. Not long ago, you walked behind a curtain, pulled a lever, and you were done voting. Now you have to fill out all these little circles on a big sheet of paper, and it takes forever. Then hope that the scanning machine accepts it. And then hope that no one has hacked the machine to change your vote. The foundation of our government is reduced to this.
The layout of the polling place was a farce. The “privacy screens” where you fill out your ballot were positioned so that people in line could see over your shoulder without any noticeable effort. And no one was enforcing the privacy of the vote. Groups of people were filling out ballots together, for example, adult children helping aged mothers. This seems reasonable, but it can also be a way of getting two votes. Husbands could accompany their wives behind the screens and tell them how to vote. When I raised this possibility with someone said to be in charge, he said, “That’s between a husband and a wife.” Poll workers were helping people put their ballots into the scanning machines. So much for a secret ballot.
When I was a young man back in Canada, voters got a small paper ballot. There was a circle beside each candidate’s name. Behind a cardboard screen (with your back to the wall!) you marked your choice with an “x” or checkmark, and put it in a box. Election workers and “scrutineers” from each party emptied the box and counted the ballots. Then they sealed the ballots and phoned in the results. No hanging chads. And you couldn’t hack into the ballot box.
Forward is sometimes backward.