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Paper, Please

By James Utt
By James Utt

Those of us lined up at 7 a.m., eagerly waiting to vote at our local precinct last November, were told that the voting machines were temporarily not working. We could wait for the person with the magic key to arrive or use paper ballots. Since the sniping between the Trump and Clinton camps was getting a little tense, I opted to go for paper rather than wait. When finished, I had a comforting, genuine sensation. As long as the ballot was in my hand, I could verify all my selections and no malware on earth could attack a paper ballot. Why did we ever leave ink and paper? Oh, yeah, probably that Florida thing in 2000. But, we are faced today with worse threats than hanging chads.

There is a growing nationwide movement for our country to return to paper ballots. This has been given impetus by the Russian attempts, unfortunately downplayed by our current president, to interfere in our electoral process. Count me as part of the paper ballot movement. But wait, some of you might say, isn’t this the same Luddite who refuses to be on Facebook (yes- oversharing is a real concern and people waste too much time being involved with it), has never used an ATM (I like to talk to actual people in my bank), pays all his bills by check rather than automatic withdrawal (I like getting paper cuts on my tongue when I lick the envelopes), and still gets Netflix DVDs through the mail (is there any other way?). He is a technophobe. Don’t listen to him.

Okay, don’t listen to me. How about listening to conservative Michael Barone who says, “The strongest argument for paper ballots is that they can’t be hacked.” Let us leave aside the question of collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians. One thing is certain (unless you doubt all of America’s intelligence agencies), the Russians attempted to influence the 2016 elections. According to the Department of Homeland Security those efforts included attempts to meddle with the elections in 21 states. There is no solid evidence that a single vote was altered, but they tried. They will continue to try, and they will get better at it. This is one of the most dangerous attacks on democracy in our nation’s history.

At a recent DEF CON Hacker conference in Las Vegas, four voting machines were successfully hacked into in a matter of hours by teams of hackers. Computer scientist Barbara Simons, a proponent of paper ballots, said at the conference, “Anything that’s happening here, you can be sure that those intent on undermining the integrity of our election systems have already done.”

Still don’t want to listen to me? How about Doug Chapin, director of Future of California Elections, who said, “Paper balloting may feel old fashioned, but in many ways, it is the most modern and reliable system we have.”

Some of you will say, “Computerized voting gives us much quicker results!” We are a society that puts a high premium on getting instant information and gratification. But in the case of our electoral integrity, I believe we should be willing to sacrifice speed for reliability. Americans can wait a little while longer to find out the results. Our reliance on technology has put us in peril, especially with people like Vlad the Shirtless determined to burrow himself deep within our system.

Barbara Simons points out that there have been highly publicized hacks at places like Sony, Equifax, and the U.S. Office of Personnel Management. She drives home the fact that there are very few computerized systems that are truly secure and she offers this warning, “Our democracy is in peril. We are wide open to attack.”

The best defense would be a return to pen and paper.

So, the next time you go to vote, say it loud, say it proud, “May I have a paper ballot, please?”


James Utt has a friend who makes bookshelves. He hopes that after we return to paper ballots, we can turn back to actual books.

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