My Musings

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Secret Ballot

I’ve spent all of my adult voting years in the greater Boston area, where most candidates for national office either run unopposed or get challenged by hapless, no-name conservatives. Still, though you might know the outcome of an election in advance, how an individual votes is intended to be kept secret, notwithstanding the people openly trumpeting their leanings by posting yard signs or throwing boozy “meet the candidate” parties.

For years, my various polling stations all used huge mechanical devices for voting, where you’d step in and throw a lever to enclose yourself behind a curtain, cast your ballot, and then, if you had a few minutes to kill, could play with the controls and project a fiery Wizard with a huge skull onto the wall to freak out your fellow citizens.

Wizard of Oz Voting

The voting booth, as I recall it


Then came Florida, 2000, with its hanging chads and tossed-out votes. Though Boston’s machines seemed to work just fine, they were dismissed in favor of paper ballots, and so was the clandestine nature of the vote. No need for Toto to pull back the curtain, as curtains were done away with in favor of open-air triangular booths that expose the voter to a nearby line of observers, who wonder why one would study the full text of ballot questions that had been available for months online. Afterward, with two completed 11 by 17 inch ballots of candidates and initiatives in hand, the voter is instructed to put the ballots into “secrecy covers” that are -- no kidding -- half the size of the ballots themselves.

In my case, I brought my half-exposed ballots to the reading machine, where I was met by two volunteers, one of whom was a neighbor from 5 doors down, who "helped" me insert the ballots into the machine.

Secret ballot, it ain't.

The Jerky Inside Me
Bad Boy


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