Opinion » Letter From The Editor

Faith-based Democracy

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I like to vote.

I like the feel of the polling place, the way it brings together Americans from all walks of life. I enjoy standing in line and chatting with my fellow voters, each of us carefully avoiding the subject nearest at hand. I like the unspoken rule that you don't talk politics while you're waiting to perform the most important political sacrament of our democracy.

And I like the helpful poll workers (usually), the friendly folks who guide you from the sign-in table to the "get your voting card" table to the voting machine itself. And I like how they escort you out after you've voted, taking your plastic voting card and giving you an "I Voted" sticker for your shirt.

Here's what I don't like: I don't like the mechanics of the system. I don't like the fact that when I stick that plastic card in the machine, I have to trust that it represents me — my vote — that it's been properly coded by that nice lady at the table to register a vote in my name. I have to trust that she's really as nice as she seems, and not "accidentally" failing to code my card correctly because I'm voting for a party she doesn't approve of — or because I'm the wrong color.

I don't like that after I've touched the screen for all my candidates, the machine asks me to a cast a vote for all the candidates at once by pressing yet another button on the screen. I don't like it that a plastic card popping out of a plastic machine is the only signifier telling me that my vote has been cast. Well, that, and a sticker. And I really don't like that I have to trust that this mysterious process has correctly registered my vote.

The truth is, our current voting system is literally faith-based. Our democracy rests on our faith in pixels and digits and electronics being properly aligned. It rests on our faith that volunteer election workers are competent and honest, and no doubt they mostly are. But it's incredibly foolish and naïve of us not to challenge that system and change it as soon as possible, especially in light of the knowledge that Russia — and who knows who else — has been hacking away at our voting system for years. In one state, as cited in Robert Mueller's most recent indictments, Russian hackers got voter registration information for 500,000 people. You can do a lot of mischief with half-a-million votes.

And a few rogue poll workers can do the same. As can a corrupt county election commissioner. As can an ideologically driven state election board. We need verifiable voting and we need it now. In this age of advanced technology, it's absurd that we've allowed this clumsy, archaic system to stay in place for so long.

When you buy fertilizer at Home Depot, you get a receipt. Why? Because it assures you that you've paid the right price, and if the store screws up and charges your card a different amount, you've got proof that they screwed up. That same simple technology can be and should be used for voting. Sure, give me a sticker, but also give me a receipt that shows my vote was properly recorded. Seems like a no-brainer, right?

Well, speaking of no brains, in February, the GOP-led Tennessee General Assembly rejected a bill that would have required a paper receipt for all ballots cast in Tennessee. The measure was also opposed by state election officials, who said paper ballots were an unnecessary expense and that it would cost $9.5 million to install such a system. That sounds like a lot, except when you learn that the state still has $29 million in unspent federal funds that were allocated in 2002 to help states upgrade their voting systems.

Huh. Can't imagine why anyone — or any party — would want to keep citizens from getting a receipt verifying that their vote was counted properly, can you? Especially if funds are available. It's a puzzler.

Actually, it's an outrage. And the only recourse Tennessee voters have to change the voting system so it can't be tampered with is to go vote for change — and trust that your vote will not be tampered with.

Enjoy your sticker.

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