Touch me!

By Scott Christiansen

It took longer for an Alaska Division of Elections worker to boot-up the touch-screen voting machine than it did for me to vote on it. Still, it was just about four minutes and while I fidgeted at a folding table the election worker showed a second worker how to boot-up the machine. At one point she looked around and asked, “Why is it doing this again?” to no one in particular. Before I voted, the worker had asked if I wanted large-sized text or headphones, to listen to the machine at the same time. I moved my dizzy-spell inducing, no-line bi-focals on my nose and then declined the large text.

Once inside, the machine’s interface gave relatively smooth ride. The standard text was plenty large for my eyes. I don’t require the touch-screen machine, but I figured it was one more thing a journalist can do to pay the rent. (If you’ve never seen the name of Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson in 20-point text, this may be your last chance—a ballot is the only level playing field left in America for third-party candidacies.)

The machine begins with the top of the ballot, showing the presidential race as one page view. The U.S. House of Representatives race is next. Voters can skip races when they like, and at the end of the each page, you touch a button in the lower right-hand corner of the screen to load the next page. I wondered if, in some far-away foreign land, that button is in the lower left.

The touch-screen machine is not housed in one of the aluminum voting booths that Alaskans have been familiar with for decades. There’s no colorful striped curtain to pull back. Two hinged blinders provide privacy. They fold out like big square butterfly wings, without colors, as if the machine were about to flap them, break free from its stand and soar upward. You get your privacy by cozying up to the machine. It’s a bit like using a standing computer workstation, or a lectern with a teleprompter built in.

The experience was not futuristic at all, perhaps because banks introduced us to touch-screens in the 1980s, and now a great many people carry them around in their pockets. The machine has a printer that makes a paper record of the vote. The voter can see it print and scroll on by in a little window, but cannot touch it or take it home. It stays with the machine in case election officials need to do a hand count of the ballots. I know it dutifully printed out “Mickey Mouse” when I cast a protest vote in the race for a state house district.

Early voting places are open all weekend and Monday. You can vote early or wait until Tuesday. The Division of Elections has a list of polling places and their hours here.

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