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by Dale Connelly, 11/17/00

Dc: This is DCR. One thing we've discovered as part of this year's election process is how different the experience of voting can be depending on where you are in the country. There is not much standardized equipment. Regional preferences and tendencies have worked throughout the country's history to create some pretty unusual techniques. I went to the Museum of Electoral Process in suburban Chicago and talked to curator Sylvia Tennyson.

(sfx: empty warehouse ambiance)

Sylvia: It wasn't always pen and paper. People used what they knew. My favorite is a method that came up from the Caribbean during the days of the Barbary Pirates. It's ballistic voting. You make adjustments right here as marked, based on who you select. This hatch-mark says Gore. I'll set it on Nader, since he's kind of a "loose cannon." (chuckle)

(sfx: creaking)

Dc: Where's the ballot?

Sylvia: You tack it up across the room.

Dc: All the way over there?

Sylvia: Then once you've made your decision you simply light the fuse...

(sfx: match strike)

Sylvia: Stand back!

(sfx: cannon fire)

Sylvia: There goes your vote!

(sfx: distant impact)

Dc: Wow! Voting with cannon!

Sylvia: And you can see there, if you made your settings correctly, the ballot is clearly punched all the way through in the right spot. No dangling chads in this method. Although after a day of voting, the polling place is usually condemned... And I understand in some areas of Florida they still vote this way.

Dc: I would be very uncomfortable doing this.

Sylvia: Imagine the people around you would feel. You'd probably do better with something gentler... like balloon voting.

Dc: That does sound more like me.

Sylvia: The voter enters a polling booth and here in front you can see there are several different colored balloons in little bins. Here is the George W. Bush balloon... it's red. Say he's the one you want to vote for. So you put a red balloon over the helium nozzle like so...

(sfx: rubber glove)

...and then with the foot pedal, you inflate it. Then when it's nice and tight you make a little knot here at the bottom and just... let it go!

Dc: That's all?

Sylvia: There's a spotter outside who counts the different colors and tabulates.

Dc: Could it be less exact?

Sylvia: On a windy day, it's a bit harder. Now this method is very interesting. It comes from apple country and is a holdover from a time when people spent the whole fall picking apples so they didn't have much time available. Again we have a selection of apples. And you vote with the apples. A small apple for Al Gore. A slightly larger apple for George W. Bush. A great big organic apple for Ralph Nader, a wormy apple for Buchanan. You get the idea.

Dc: You you put your apple, or "vote" in a bag or a bushel?

Sylvia: That would be unrealistic. What you do is ... push your apple down into the grinder, like so ... then turn it on.

(sfx: apple grinder)

And then you bring in the suction hose and drain away all the pulp or juice into an empty chamber, which is then weighed. And based on the weight, that's how we know who you voted for.

Dc: But that's ridiculous.

Sylvia: To you it is, but back when this was invented, it was a way to vote and keep producing applesauce.

Dc: Didn't anyone ever develop a machine with the thought in mind that they would make choosing EASIER?

Sylvia: Oh, yes. This one was developed out west, we call it "The Decision Maker". You may not know who the candidates are, but if you know what you like, you can make a reasonable vote. We've got a bank of levers here for you to flip to the yes side or the no side. Do you like Barbra Streisand or Charlton Heston? Most people have an opinion on that.

(sfx: lever flip)

Do you like bottled water or a shot of rye?

(sfx: lever flip)

Do you like to read technical manuals or do you like to read... um... or do you just not like to read too much?

(sfx: lever flip)

And you go down the list making your choices, and when you're done you put a wooden ball in the slot up on top and release it like so...

(sfx: roulette sequence)

And you see? The ball has fallen in an appropriate slot for the candidate who most resembles your profile in these choices you made up here.

Dc: I didn't realize Benjamin Harrison was running this time.

Sylvia: Oops. We should put new names on those bottom slots. But if you don't like the result you can reset your levers and do it over.

Dc: This is a very roundabout method.

Sylvia: People would spend all day in the polling place. When they began wagering on where the ball would drop, the machine was taken out of election service and used for profit elsewhere.

Dc: You make me grateful for the simple, convenient voting system we enjoy today.

Sylvia: If I can make you feel that way, then I've accomplished something pretty big, I think.

Dc: Sylvia Tennyson, curator of the Museum of Electoral Process.


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