Old is Better Than New (In the Voting Booth)

Voting this morning in my busy Fairfax County Precinct, I realized something: the old way of voting–on paper ballots–is better than every new fangled contraption scientists have dreamed up.

Before I entered the polls this morning, I was dimly aware that Virginia’s legislature had approved a law mandating paper ballots. To me, this was a rather silly exercise: except in a few large cities, vote fraud just isn’t that common or consequential even though both Democrats and Republicans love to accuse the other side of stealing elections. The best way to vote, I thought, was the easiest and most high tech. I was wrong.

Watching the polls, I realized the true advantage of paper ballots: because they cost almost nothing, there’s no real limit on the number of voting booths that can exist in a locality that uses paper ballots. At least in Fairfax County where I live, a computer of sorts–an optical scanner with technology that dates to the 1960s–still gets used to tabulate ballots. But most voters actually cast their votes on paper. Although the line was, by far, the longest I’ve ever seen–it filled up nearly an entire elementary school building–it moved much faster than the one I stood in when I voted for President in 2004 on a touch screen. Thinking about it, I’m not quite sure why we ever abandoned voting by paper ballot in favor of mechanical machines, punch cards, and touch screens. Paper is easier, cheaper, more secure, and allows for a lot more voting booths. But, since paper ballots will be be the only way to vote in Virginia starting next year, I cast my vote the now-old fashioned way. . . via a touch screen.