Tuesday, October 05, 2004

visiting dignitaries try American democracy

Kwesi Addae, a fifty-three-year-old former political-science professor from Ghana and the founder of Pollwatch Africa, has monitored elections in half a dozen shenanigan-prone countries, including Togo, Nigeria, and Guinea-Bissau.


Addae, as one of twenty foreign election observers brought here this month by the left-leaning human-rights group Global Exchange, is inspecting the creaky mechanics of American democracy at close hand. He signed up for the two-week mission, he said, “out of fascination.”

In Africa, Addae had seen phantom polling stations, ruling-party rent-a-mobs, ballots bought with beer. But nothing in his experience had prepared him for the iVotronic touch-screen voting system. The iVotronic is the latest in electoral technology, a light, flat-screen computer that will be used this November in parts of Florida, among other places. ...

The observers crowded around. “You’re quite fortunate to be able to touch and feel the same thing that those voters will be using on Election Day,” a salesman from Election Systems & Software, the machine’s manufacturer, said. ...

“Let’s vote,” Addae said. ... Addae was next. He bellied up to the machine and poked at the screen. Nothing happened. Someone handed him a small cartridge—a “personalized electronic ballot,” or P.E.B. Addae examined the cartridge quizzically, then fumbled as he tried to insert it into the machine. “Put it back in for just a second,” an observer named David MacDonald, a former member of Canada’s parliament, said. “Now remove it.”

A ballot appeared on the screen. For the purposes of this demonstration, the election was a local one, and the candidates for mayor were all actors; for city council, hockey players; and for school board, musicians. For some reason, they were also all Canadians. “O.K.,” Addae said, peering over his glasses. “I want Michael J. Fox.” Passing over Neve Campbell, John Candy, and Dan Aykroyd, he touched Fox’s name, and a little green check mark appeared. Addae ran his finger down the list of candidates in other races: Gordie Howe, Ken Dryden, Bryan Adams, Shania Twain, Gordon Lightfoot. “I want Bobby Orr. I want Neil Young,” he said. When he was done, Addae punched a flashing red button marked “ vote .” The machine beeped twice, and a message appeared on the screen: “Your ballot has been cast. Thank you for voting.”

Addae shook his head. “It’s not very easy,” he said. Back home, Ghanaians still vote the old-fashioned way, by writing an “X” on a paper ballot and dropping it into a box. “Thereafter, they are counted one by one, and the figures are written down and announced,” he said.


After he was finished with the computer demonstration, he ambled across the room, where some observers were voting with paper ballots. He grabbed a ballot and filled in the bubbles next to his choices. The salesman collected twelve ballots and loaded them into a optical scanner. Whoosh —the ballots shot through. But there was a problem. The machine rejected five of the ballots, including Addae’s. The observers had used a pen instead of a No. 2 pencil. This election observer was ready to deliver his verdict: “I am not impressed at all!”

The New Yorker - 2004-10-04
The Talk of the Town - Visiting Dignitaries - Dry Run
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