"Demanding Precision at the polls, " George F. Will, Washington Post, 10/29/2006

From: Ed Kennedy <ekennedyx_at_yahoo_dot_com>
Date: Sun Oct 29 2006 - 20:36:05 CST

Hello All:

 

            I think this is all for today for news from me. Kind of mystery
what Will actually thinks as the uncharitable could read the article as,
'stuff happens, get over it.' I'm not quite prepared to say that myself as
he does seem to be basically critical of dre's.

 

Thanks, Ed Kennedy

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Who Needs to 'Help' America Vote?

By George F. Will
Sunday, October 29, 2006; B07

The hoariest jest in conservatism's repertoire is that the three least
credible assertions in the English language are "The check is in the mail,"
"Of course I'll respect you as much in the morning" and "I'm from the
government, and I'm here to help you." Which brings us to the exquisitely
named Help America Vote Act.

Having fixed Iraq and New Orleans, the federal government's healing touch is
now being applied to voting. As a result, days -- perhaps weeks -- might
pass after Election Day without the nation's knowing which party controls
the House or Senate. If that happens, one reason might be HAVA, that 2002
bit of federal helpfulness.

For over two centuries before Congress passed HAVA, Americans voted. Really.
Unlike today, those who were elected -- Clay, Webster, Lincoln and lesser
lights -- often were more complex and sophisticated than the voting
machinery.

Using pencils to make marks on paper and later using machines to punch holes
in paper ballots, voters -- without federal help; imagine -- caused
Congresses and presidents to come and go. States ran elections; some ran
them better than others. Some ballots have been better designed than others,
as have some voting machines. Most have been adequate. The gross defects of
American voting practices were laws that established or permitted
discrimination and other abuses. Tardily, but emphatically, those laws were
changed and other abuses were halted.

Then came 2000 and Florida and the 36-day lawyers' scrum about George W.
Bush's 537-vote margin of victory. In response to which, Congress passed
HAVA, which in 2006 may produce fresh confirmation of the prudential axiom
that the pursuit of the perfect is the enemy of the good.

The lesson that should have been learned from Florida was: In Florida, as in
life generally, one should pursue as much precision as is reasonable -- but
not more. When, as very rarely happens, a large electorate, such as that
state's 6.1 million voters in 2000, is evenly divided, the many errors and
ambiguities that inevitably will occur during the marking of millions of
ballots will be much more numerous than the margin of victory. That is
unfortunate, but no great injustice will be done, no matter who is declared
the winner in a contest that is essentially tied.

Unfortunately, the lesson the nation chose to learn from Florida was that
American technological wizardry could prevent such highly unusual events,
and no expense should be spared to do so. Hence HAVA, which made $3.8
billion available for states to purchase the most modern voting equipment.

On Election Day, 38 percent of the nation's voters will use touch screens to
record their choices, according to Election Data Services. Unlike optical
scanners that read markings put on paper ballots, most touch-screen machines
-- including those that the New York Times reports will be used in about
half of the 45 districts with the most closely contested House races --
produce no paper that can be consulted for verification of the results if a
recount is required.

Maryland's new $106 million touch-screen system melted into a chaos of
mechanical and human errors in last month's primary election. Lawsuits have
been filed in five states seeking to block the use of touch-screen machines.

Today's political climate -- hyperpartisanship leavened by paranoia and
exploited by a national surplus of lawyers -- makes this an unpropitious
moment for introducing new voting technologies that will be administered by
poll workers who often are retirees for whom the task of working a DVD
player is a severe challenge. Furthermore, an election is, after all, a
government program, and readers of Genesis know that new knowledge often
brings trouble. So we should not be surprised if, on Nov. 7, new voting
machinery does what new technologies -- dams, bridges, steamships, airplanes
-- have done through history: malfunction.

Football, in its disproportionate pursuit of error-free officiating, now
relies on instant replays because . . . well, because it can. This
technology does indeed reduce human error. But it also reduces games to
coagulation as players stand around waiting for officials to study video in
the hope of achieving a degree of precision and certainty more appropriate
to delicate surgery than to the violent thrashing of huge padded men in what
is -- lest we forget, as the judicial solemnities of instant replay cause us
to forget -- a game.

Democracy is not a mere game. But -- write this on a piece of paper, using a
No. 2 pencil -- neither is it an activity from which it is sensible to
demand more precision than can reasonably be expected when, on a November
Tuesday, 100 million people record billions of political choices.

georgewill@washpost.com

C 2006 The Washington Post Company

 

 --

 

Edmund R. Kennedy, PE

10777 Bendigo Cove

San Diego, CA 92126

 

 

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