For most municipalities, Election Day last week was the first time for voting with the new optical-scan technology, which replaced the old-fashioned mechanical lever machines. A few glitches notwithstanding, the transition appears to have gone pretty well proof that those of us living in the "Land of Steady Habits" are adaptable.
Still, we noticed a few areas that could be improved, and respectfully submit the following suggestions to local elections officials.
Privacy is an essential element of the voting experience. The old lever machine, which surrounded a voter with walls and a curtain, provided privacy aplenty. Under the new system, however, a voter fills out the ballot at a freestanding "privacy booth" (basically, small portable desk with three short walls for privacy), then takes it over to the optical-scan machine and inserts it.
Compared to lever voting, this new system is a lot more "public."
Voters ought to have folders or envelopes to carry marked ballots in, a precaution that would give an extra measure of privacy. So would spacing "privacy booths" a few feet apart. A handbook distributed by the secretary of the state's office recommends arranging the booths so that the voter's back is to the wall, a step that would go a long way toward alleviating the "someone's-looking-over-my-shoulder" sensation.
Election officials who tend to the optical scanners should be instructed to stand a few feet away from the machines, close enough to provide assistance, but far enough away to protect privacy.
All privacy booths should also be equipped with magnifying glasses. Finally, election officials should tell each and every voter to look on the back of ballots for races and referendum questions that may appear there.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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