I miss pulling the lever.
I was one of the few, the proud, the town of Milford residents who voted in Tuesday’s general election. I went down to the Portlandville Town Hall, filled out my paper ballot and fed it into the machine.
But I miss pulling the lever.
I remember going to vote with my mom when I was a little kid growing up in Oregon. My parents voted at the Grange hall next door to my elementary school.
On Election Day, my mom would drive me to school and I would go into the little booth. She would pull the curtain closed behind us, and I would stand, breathless and still, as she punched the ballot to mark her choices. I was in awe of the process, and looked forward eagerly to the day when I, too, would be able to step into a voting booth.
When I turned 18, I was thrilled to have the opportunity to vote in a presidential election year, as well as weighing in on a massive 23 ballot measures. My joy was tempered only slightly by the fact that I cast my first vote, as so many 18-year-olds do, by absentee ballot from 3,000 miles away. No matter; I was just happy to be voting.
I continued to vote absentee throughout college, still looking forward to being able to cast my vote in person. But while I was away at school, Oregon voters approved an initiative requiring everyone to vote by mail.
At the time, I thought it was a stupid idea. It seemed to take away all the fun, all the pomp and circumstance, of voting. I imagined my mom and dad heading down to the Grange hall, chatting with neighbors and friends - no longer. And I saw my own childhood dream of stepping into a voting booth fade away for good.
Or so I thought.
By 2002, I had moved to Oneonta with my now-husband, and was registered to vote in time for that year’s election. So you can imagine my glee when I walked into St. James’ Episcopal Church and was ushered over to an old-fashioned lever machine to cast my ballot.
I’ll never forget that feeling when I closed the curtain behind me and contemplated the illuminated board. Pulling that great big lever and hearing the satisfying “ka-chunk” sound, signifying that my vote had been cast, was such a great feeling.
And now that’s gone too.
Don’t get me wrong - I understand that those old lever machines were not long for this world. They were relics, for which new parts were no longer being made and technical support no longer available. And with the passage of the federal Help America Vote Act in 2002, it became clear that New York state would have to modernize its voting process.
This is a laudable goal. But it’s unfortunate that the states have been pushed around by companies such as Diebold, which made every effort to convince states that touch-screen machines were the only way to comply with the law.
Fortunately for us, New York chose to go with machines that read a paper ballot, rather than touch-screen machines that lack a paper trail. But there are still widespread concerns about how secure and accurate any electronic voting machine can be.
For a chilling, if decidedly partisan, analysis of how susceptible voting machines are to fraud, check out Victoria Collier’s article titled “How to Rig an Election” in Harper’s.
It’s naive to think that there wasn’t fraud - or at least the potential for it - years ago when my mother was stepping into that little makeshift booth down at the Grange hall. But as Collier writes, “Electronic voting systems allow insiders to rig elections on a statewide or even national scale. And whereas once you could catch the guilty parties in the act, and even dredge the ballot boxes out of the bayou, the virtual vote count can be manipulated in total secrecy.”
Compared to the problems Collier describes, Oregon’s vote-by-mail system is sounding pretty good. And the lever machines are looking better than ever.
So is it any wonder I still long for a simpler time?
Emily F. Popek is assistant editor of The Daily Star. She can be reached at 432-1000, ext. 217, or firstname.lastname@example.org.