CBS 2 School: Back To The Future Of Voting

Marty McFly was able to go back in time to change the destiny of his parents, we just wish he would have done the same for the future of voting technology.

On Nov. 5, 1985, Back to the Future’s Marty McFly journeyed to his 1955 hometown in a DeLorean time machine. During his adventure in his hometown, McFly points out some notable political changes between 1955 and 1985.

He recognizes how political advertising moves from bullhorns on the streets to TVs in our living rooms. McFly also informs his friends from the 1950s that actor Ronald Reagan is destined to become President Ronald Reagan. He then inspires busboy Goldy Wilson to one day run as Mayor of Hill Valley.

We just wish he would have also inspired the future of how we vote.

55 years from the day that McFly landed back in Hill Valley, we can now communicate nearly at the speed of a time-traveling DeLorean. And technology now helps us exchange trillions of dollars in day-to-day financial exchanges.

But in 2010 we still have to wait weeks to determine the winner of close elections as we count ballots by hand.

In the 8th Congressional District of Illinois, political prognosticators were shocked last week with Republican Joe Walsh’s narrow edge over Democratic incumbent Melissa Bean on election night.

Marty McFly would have been even more shocked to learn that we won’t get a final vote count in that race until two weeks after the election.

Even with the new voter technology that we have installed during the last 10 years, thousands of paper ballots are still sent through the U.S. Postal Service. Those ballots have to be inspected for authenticity then tabulated into the results which won’t be finalized until at least November 16th.

If we could have sent a 2010 McFly back in time, we’d have him inspire election officials to one day integrate the ballot with the same technology that we use in our daily finances.

McFly could have taught election officials that Americans would one day trust technology enough to count our personal money and that we would surely trust this same technology with counting our votes.

Using this technology on Election Day would then ensure more immediate election totals with less possibility of human error and corruption.

And then McFly could have sent the same farewell message to the skeptical audience of election officials that he did to the 1950s audience which was skeptical about the future of rock music: “I guess you guys aren’t ready for that, yet. But your kids are gonna love it.”

  • Peter Gambino

    If only Marty McFly went back to when election officials were thinking of ways to count votes from voters who would not be available on election day. I feel that he would convince them to make a website where the voters could sign up and login in using their own username and password to vote electronically. This would make counting these early votes alot easier and simpler.

  • Dennis Huang

    I still really do not understand why our vote-counting process has not been modernized. Every part of our lives is progressing technologically – we already have made highly sophisticated robots, 3-D TV’s, incredibly fast and powerful computers, and so much more. However, an integral part of our country’s government that controls who makes the laws that govern the country for the next several years is still lagging behind. America has become the nation of complaints, yet there is no uproar over the amount of ineffectiveness and human error that comes with hand-counting ballots. The American people deserve better accuracy and speed for the process that gives power to the leaders of the nation.

  • Justin Hyun

    It seems ridiculous that voters have to wait until Nov 16 to find out the final results for an election that has national implications. First, I do not understand how Illinos allows an election to drag on and on. There should be some final deadline where no more votes can be counted after that date. Second, voter techonology needs to be upgraded. Old people get easily confused by voting. And it seems like only old people vote. Thus, voting needs to be simplified and streamlined digitially. A touch screen with easy instructions seems like a simple way tomake voting easier. Voting should be like trading stocks. It should happen in an instant and the results should come up instantly. That would definitely reduce the margin of error and the time lag. I hope that I will be able to see this kind of change in my lifetime .

  • Sam I Am

    I wonder what is stopping the changes in voter technology. Are politicians reluctant to bring up the idea of an electronic system or is the idea continually being struck down on the grounds of loose security or money? Here, we vote by written ballot. This provides a sense of security for many as there is a clear written record to trace. I can understand that people may not want to get rid of the security of a paper trail. In Pennsylvania however, there are no ballots. Instead there is a mechanical machine (not computer) in which one presses buttons. If these voters are already okay with not individually possessing a concrete ballot, they might as well switch to a computerized system as the voter would have the same experience. Maybe all we need is for one state to switch voter technology and the others will observe how it works and thus change their policies accordingly. (This would also be an example of a benefit of Federalism).

  • LameDuck Mitra

    I’m gonna respectfully disagree with the above comments and say that paper ballots should be kept. As Sam said, paper ballots provide a sense of security. I don’t think that most of the country is ready to embrace computerized ballots yet. What if the system is hacked and votes are altered? We might not even notice it. What if someone spreads a virus in the computers of absentee voters that automatically votes for someone? If Israeli computer hackers can spread a virus to Iranian computers to gather data about their purported nuclear program, making something to alter votes seems perfectly plausible. Unless computer security is enhanced to completely eliminate the risk of hackers, I think paper ballots should be kept.

  • Allison Perlin

    Firstly, to respond to above comments, I think it is implausible to say that if we only were to make more intelligent technology, then the risk of hacking a voting system would decrease. There is always a possibility with technology counting votes that machines can be broken in to; the only difference is that the hackers are smarter.
    In addition, I think that it’s pointless to officially declare that after a certain day and time votes will not be counted. It is one thing if the vote is completed incorrectly. It is a completely different story if a ballot is no longer valid simply because a voter’s name is Smith rather than Jones or the person counting votes wasn’t able to reach that vote in time. If a vote is valid then it must be counted. The issue is human error and the little nuances of ballot counting; if a signature is missing or the vote was mailed on the correct date but received late. These confuse ballot counters, create differences in how our votes are counted, and therefore truly do affect who is elected in to office, specifically in close elections. While I know it is idealistic, I hope that one day there will be a uniform standard to the logistics of voting and counting votes. The fact of the matter is that as soon as this issue is brought up for change, very strong and defensive opinions prevent many alterations in unifying the vote counting procedure.

  • Zach Blumenfeld

    First of all, thank you for giving a shout out to one of the best movies ever made.
    Second of all, I think that using technology in voting would present unforseen problems. For example, old people, the main voting base, aren’t the best with technology. What’s to prevent us from having another “hanging chad” incident, only online instead of on paper? In addition, the new technology may not be available for everyone. And finally, as LameDuck stated, the system could always be hacked.
    It may be inefficient, but for now, the paper system is the best we have.
    (Also, this website has auto refreshed about 5 times while I was typing, so I’m somewhat angry at technology.)

  • Andrew Wachter

    Why fix something that isn’t broken? Yes, it seems as with all of the paper ballots from mail-in voters a more proficient process could be used, however, what is the need? Yes, it may cost a lot of money and take close to two weeks to count all of the ballots, however, the system seems to work. As Mitra and Zach said above any technological system could always be hacked, so why put the unnecessary risk of having some computer hacker decide who is elected rather than going with what has always been used in the past.

  • Paulson Varghese

    It seems that voting is a lot like baseball. Both are all concerned with keeping in the human element that continues to make errors. It would be better for the nation to move in a different direction and start using the advanced technology that we have. While people will continue to talk about hackers and computer malfunctions, I think if we move in that direction we would be able to learn to prevent any such errors and make voting easier. America is one of the oldest and best examples of democracy and yet we have one of the most technologically deficient system. We can and should change that to make voting easier for everyone.

  • Diana Zarbin

    Echoing what Andrew, Zach, and Mitra have said, paper ballots may take a longer amount of time, but the longevity provides the citizens with a sense of security that no possible errors could occur. As anything new presents itself into our world, technology especially, there will always be problems associated with it as well, and you never know where technology could go wrong and why. Paper ballots may not be time efficient, but they are secure and usually without error.

  • sherlee cohen

    the fact that in 2010 we still have to wait weeks (IL , 8th Congressional District) or months ( Alaska, Senatorial race) to determine the winner of close elections is shamful! After careful examination as to why this is allowed to go on for such a long time, I truely believe that the status quo serves well ” the needs” of unions, and “political machines” like those in Chicago, New- York and Las- Vegas. The current voting systems helps the ‘machines’ win elections due to corruption and voter fraud. It is not in their best interest to adop the usage of technology and make voting :fast, easy, count and fraud tempered, but for the life of me I don’t understand why all of you, the grown up voters, didn’t rebell thus far? I see many of our citizens (voters) demonstate for the most trivial thing , so why not demonstrate when it comes to an issue that determines who will govern us and effect our lives? We, the citizens,and taxpayers need to take matters in our hands and start a ‘Tea voter party’ to force the adoption of one uniform voting system throughout the USA, and yes, it must use the latest and most innivative technology.

  • Zack Lubelfeld

    Wasn’t the issue with the 2000 Presidential election the obsolete ballots in Florida? Why haven’t we learned from our mistakes of the past? I think that if we are going to trust a computer to handle your bank account, we can certainly trust a computer to count votes. Also, a computer would make vote-counting more accurate, because computers can read the information better than the majority of the octogenarians who work in polling places and wind up counting votes the first time.

  • Mo Waheed

    We are living in the 21st century and we have some of the best tecnology in the world. we use technolgy for everything so how about using it for something really important like the election. it is ridiculious that we have to wait two weeks to find out the results of the election. if we used technolgy the process would be much more clear and consice. not to mention really fast. In addition there is a lower chance of error. so we need to have the advanced voting system that would give quick results with less errors.

  • Connie Lu

    I definitely agree with everyone who says that it’s silly that the ballot counting system has yet to be “modernized”. However, I feel that a large part of this is due to the fact that people have an inherent distrust of technology – even in this technological era. It is a common conception that hand counting ballots is, slower, but more accurate, than machine counts. Hence the reason ballots are counted by hand in particularly close races. There is something comforting about holding a ballot with your own hands and seeing it with your own eyes. Nontheless, it is about time some reform came through for the ballot counting system. Studies have shown that machine counting is actually more accurate. So more accurate and faster to boot. People should really stop relying on hand counted ballots and convert to machine counting permanently. This way, we would likely never have to wait 2 weeks just to find out who the winner of an election is.

  • Michael Powers

    I think that going completely technological without first working out any kinks in the technological systems will be a major risk because of the potential for voter fraud. With paper ballots, there is a paper trail to go back and recount by hand or to check for fraud. However, computer data can be altered without leaving any trace, so using only computers without making sure of its safety is a bad idea.

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