The first election in which I voted was the 1980 presidential primary. Ronald Reagan was on the ballot, and my voting precinct was the courthouse in Appling.
Votes back then were cast inside an honest-to-goodness voting booth set up in the lobby. When you walked in and pulled the handle, a curtain closed behind you. Each race had a little lever by each candidate; to vote, you flipped that candidate's lever.
After voting, you pulled the big handle again. It recorded your votes and opened the curtain.
Or did it? We know it opened the curtain; that was obvious. But when we pulled that handle and all those little levers flipped back into place, did we really know what vote was recorded?
Of course not. But we trusted that our vote was counted.
Fast-forward nearly 30 years. When voters go to the polls now, they step up to an electronic monitor. They insert a voting card provided by poll workers, touch the screen to start, then go through a few virtual pages choosing candidates or answers on issues.
Then, when they're done, the voters review their selections and press a "cast ballot" button. The machine records the votes and ejects the card.
The card in hand, like the open curtain of three decades ago, is a visible sign that we've voted. But in neither case do we walk away with a personal record of our votes.
In other words, we didn't have a "paper trail" 30 years ago. Why, then, are some people so fanatically worried about having one now?
On Monday, the Georgia Supreme Court unanimously dismissed a challenge to those electronic voting machines, saying their use does not restrict the right to vote by failing to provide a paper trail.
The justices should have pointed out that one of the biggest election fights our country has ever had was in an election with a "paper trail" - the infamous "hanging chad" presidential election between George W. Bush and Al Gore in 2000.
Despite all evidence to the contrary, there are still committed soreheads who believe Gore won that election. Would the outcome be one bit more acceptable to them if the election had been conducted by any other method?
Of course not, and that perhaps is the main point. No matter what method we use for elections, whether it's mechanical levers or punch-cards or a touch-screen machine, we have to be able to accept the results.
Blaming a loss on the voting method is no different from blaming the referees for a loss on the ball field. Neither will change the outcome, and each unavoidably sounds like sour grapes.
Incidentally, in that 1980 General Election, those machines recorded a majority of Columbia County's votes for Reagan over Jimmy Carter. Along with a vote in favor of Matt Mattingly over Herman Talmadge for the U.S. Senate, it was the first sign of the county's transition from majority Democrat to Republican.
But it would be four more years before the first Republicans won local races: Otis Hensley for sheriff, and Suzanne Scott for school board.
Grovetown at polls
Speaking of elections, Monday is the last day for Grovetown residents to register to vote in the city council election. It's also the first day for early voting. Bruce Stoddard, Rosa Lee Owens and Sonny McDowell are running for two seats.
All this takes place not in Grovetown, but at the Board of Elections office in Evans.
Grovetown has had a few lively issues decided recently by city council: A controversial ordinance restricting the age of mobile homes; an ordinance ousting the impromptu Saturday flea markets from parking lots; and a rezoning Monday that would put commercial lots in a residential area.
However, I don't know that McDowell, the only non-incumbent of the three, would have voted any differently than the majority. If any voters are worked up about those or other issues, they'll just have to ask.
(Barry L. Paschal is publisher of The Columbia County News-Times. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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