Cerabino: Not to be dramatic, but remember those Votomatics?


Bring back the dangling chads.

It’s becoming clear that we were too hasty in getting rid of all those Votomatic punch-card ballot machines after the 2000 presidential election and its infamous 37-day Florida recount.

Now, nearly 18 years later, the old Votomatics are starting to look good again.

That’s because this week, the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee issued a set of recommendations on how states can protect themselves against foreign attacks on their elections. And one of those recommendations was for states to buy voting machines that require paper ballots.

“At a minimum, any machine purchased going forward should have a voter-verified paper trail and no WiFi capability,” the committee recommended. “If use of paper ballots becomes more widespread, election officials should re-examine current practices for securing the chain of custody of all paper ballots and verify no opportunities exist for the introduction of fraudulent votes.”

With U.S. intelligence agencies announcing widespread Russian meddling in the 2016 elections, including a breach of the Florida voter registration system, the use of black-box machines that electronically store and tabulate ballots have become less desirable than ones that require vote thievery to be on a retail, rather than wholesale, level.

Yes, bring back the punch cards. Out with those optical scan machines and their memory cartridges and giant Denny’s-menu-sized ballots. It’s time to pick up the stylus and try our hands at chad removal again.

I know. I know.

We were so traumatized by the 2000 election that Florida made punch cards illegal, and Palm Beach County quickly liquidated its stock of the old voting machines: Selling hundreds of those Votomatics on eBay, others in a bulk sale to single buyer, and giving one as a donation to the Smithsonian Institution, in Washington, as a historical artifact.

But, as is often said, history repeats itself. And the time is right.

Sure, we screwed up during that 2000 presidential election. Until then, we had no idea how important it was as a voter to inspect your punched ballot before you deposited it in the big metal box.

We learned from that election that if you didn’t make sure all those little square perforated areas on the cards (chads) were cleanly removed, they could very well result in an unrecorded vote when the ballot was fed into the tabulating machine.

Instead of being a clean hole, the chad would still be flapping on the card, either hanging or dangling, or just showing a little daylight as a “pregnant chad.”

It didn’t only give us a new vocabulary but it taught local voters how to take their citizenship duties more seriously.

And as a testament to that, the next election in Palm Beach County after that infamous vote was a town election in South Palm Beach two month later, and there wasn’t a single Votomatic ballot turned in with a dangling, hanging or pregnant chad.

We learned the hard way. Then we got rid of the technology we had mastered.

Congress passed the Help America Vote Act of 2002, which banned the use of punch-card ballots. So it would take some federal legislation to legalize them again as a way to protect ourselves from another Russian assault on our elections.

Maybe a Save the Chads Voting Act of 2018.



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