Any American who was old enough to vote in 2000 knows what the “hanging chad” is. After a long, hard-fought, presidential campaign between then Vice President Al Gore and Governor George W. Bush, it came down to what will go down as one of the messiest elections in history.
After Vice President Gore lost the electoral votes in the state of Florida, evidence surfaced that many votes may not have been counted due to the “hanging chad”. It may be hard to remember, but it was only a short time ago that voting in America was completed by voters taking a piece of paper with perforated holes and a punch. Voters were to “punch” the hole in the paper through voting booths to cast their ballot for their candidate of choice. These holes were submitted, and ran through a machine that read the corresponding holes as votes. However, if a hole wasn’t punch all the way through, in many cases the tiny piece of paper – or chad - that was supposed to be removed would hang on cause the machines to not count the votes. After weeks of recounts and court involvement, Governor Bush was declared the winner of Florida and in turn, the next President of the United States. To this day if you ask many liberals many will still tell you that not only was the 2000 Florida “hanging chad” debacle one of the most embarrassing moments in American history, but also proof that the wrong man was given the job as the leader of the free world.
The term “hanging chad” has now transcending its literal meaning in American politics, just as Coke in the world of soft drinks, or iPod in the world of MP3 players. The term now represents everything that make many Americans question voting system and whether or not their votes count – let alone are being counted.
Fast forward to 2012 where electronic voting machines – essentially touch screen computers used to cast ballots – account for the majority of voting locations. These new voting machines were supposed to remove the risk of the “hanging chad” in a literal sense, but if today’s events show anything, it’s that the “hanging chad” is still a huge issue in the American voting system.
First there was the video posted this morning posted to Reddit by a voter in Pennsylvania clearly showing a voting machine selecting Governor Mitt Romney when the voter clearly touched the screen selecting President Barack Obama. While Pennsylvania voting officials have confirmed the machine was removed, the question remains just how many voters out there thought they were voting for President Obama, but instead voted for Governor Romney. We may never know the answer to that, but with a very tight race between the two candidates, it’s possible that this has the potential to be another “hanging chad” issue. You can check out the video yourself below:
Then there’s the second report that in the crucial swing state of Ohio, election officials are demanding “answers” to evidence that Republican Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted had “experimental” software installed into Ohio voting machines. Election officials contend this software was installed suspiciously close to Election Day in Ohio – a state where Democratic President Obama had momentum in early polls – and that this software could allow back door tampering by partisan interests.
While both of these snafus could turn out to be moot points depending on tonight’s election results, these issues could potentially become 2012′s “hanging chad”, along with possibly other vote casting and counting issues that may not have been reported. With this year’s election looking a lot like 2000′s with an extremely tight race, Americans may not know for days – if not weeks – who our next leader will be.
It also begs the question whether the United States, the country where modern computing giants like Microsoft, Apple, and Google all call home, is ready to take voting into the 21st century? Increasingly longer voting lines, with some voters waiting over 4 hours to vote, make the promise of an efficient, electronic voting system even easier to embrace. But the promise of efficiency is overshadowed by these “hanging chads” that make voters question whether their votes are counted correctly. If there is one thing Americans should be able to count on, it’s that our choices for those we wish to represent us in government are counted correctly.
It’s unnerving to think that the country whose companies invented the Internet, the desktop computer, and the modern touch screen device, can’t seem to figure out a safe, secure, tamper-proof way of ensuring our voting process moves into the 21st century. While standing in line myself this morning for over two hours to vote, I heard the grumblings of many voters wondering why we can’t figure out a way to vote online. While in a perfect world we would be able to fire up an app on our iPhones, enter our information, and vote for our next President with a few taps on the screen, the fact of the matter is that we can’t even get our specialized electronic voting machines to count votes correctly. So while it sounds all fine and dandy, if today’s potentially “hanging chads” are any indication, we are still very much in beta when it comes to casting our votes electronically.
The problem is that when it comes to selecting the our elected officials, including the most powerful man on Earth, “bugs” just aren’t acceptable.