Opinion » Viewpoint

Back to Paper Ballots

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What scares me the most about Russia's intrusion into our election process are the reports that they may have had access to our voter rolls, voting booths, and voting results. This hacking into our computer voting mechanisms has been a concern of many for quite some time.

This country made a decision years ago to computerize our voting system. It's not because it is more accurate. It's certainly not quicker, and it's definitely not more efficient. In the last three election cycles in Memphis, we waited until long after 10 p.m. for any results, and it was after midnight before we knew who won. It's a scary mess.

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Before I was elected to two terms on the Memphis City Council, I unsuccessfully ran in 1977 for the same seat. The voting mechanism was not computerized. It was the old system, where voters went into a voting booth, pulled the switch to close the curtain, flipped the voting levers, then pulled the red switch to record the vote.

At 7 p.m., when the polls closed, the voting officials pulled the lever at the back of the booth and the final totals were spit out on a paper tally, much like a cash register tape. All the totals from the machines in each precinct were added together and the final results were phoned in by the precinct chairman to Election Central. Candidates were allowed to have a poll watcher witness the total being tabulated and phone them in to their candidate's headquarters. The candidates knew whether they had won or lost by 7:30 p.m.

It was quick, efficient, honest, and had credibility.

Where are we today? Computerization has not made it quicker, nor more efficient, and we are now learning there is a real potential for dishonesty by hacking the vote. Most importantly, the system lacks credibility. Because of the possibility of hacking, confidence in the system is being destroyed. And once the people lose faith in the credibility of their voting system, democracy goes by the wayside.

This is not a partisan issue. Concerns about the lack of credibility in the system have been expressed by both parties. Never before have we heard the phrase "rigged election" expressed so often in campaigns.

Not only does credibility go, we are spending a fortune on these high-powered, inefficient, Rube Goldberg machines, when more reliable results can be achieved much quicker, far cheaper, and with the utmost credibility by the former system.

Yes, it's time we go back to the old lever machines or, better yet, paper ballots. If a precinct has 3,000 votes with 12 precinct workers, the votes could be counted and verified in 30 minutes. There would also be a paper trail, should questions arise.

France uses a paper ballot system. In that country's recent national elections, the votes were tallied and the result was known before midnight. Similarly, Canada uses only paper ballots for its national and provincial elections — ballots that afford each party the opportunity to inspect the counting.

Americans believe we've become so sophisticated with our computerization, polling, and exit polling, but all this really does is allow the media to project a winner five minutes before one of its competitors. The credibility and sanctity of the ballot far outweighs the importance of this media silliness.

It's now time for the public to actively urge our Election Commission and state and federal legislators to immediately pass legislation mandating a return to the simplest, most efficient, most honest, and cheapest means to vote. And that's the paper ballot and our former voting machines.

We know hackers can steal credit card information by walking by a user of an ATM. Do we believe the voting system that's in place is not as vulnerable?

Our democracy is too precious to put it in the hands of politically motivated parties, rival nations, or angry computer hackers and geeks.

John Vergos served two terms on the Memphis City Council and has been active in Memphis and Shelby County politics for decades.

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