Touching the voter, touching the screen

I already have done my patriotic duty. Contributed to the civic order. Done my part to ensure political order.

I have cast my ballot, and it’s not yet Election Day.

Or more precisely, I repeatedly touched the electronic voting monitor last week with my digital fingerprint and zipped through 18 on-screen pages even before many of you sat down for the weekend to review your voter pamphlet and decipher what those television commercials have been about all these weeks.

For the first time I am among the “early returns” and I find myself in that category because I won’t be in Los Angeles on Tuesday. I am here in Michigan where I am covering an anti-affirmative action ballot measure that is reminiscent of the Proposition 209 campaign that passed a decade ago in California and is spearheaded by the same man who championed that effort, former UC Regent Ward Connerly.

It’s clear I am not in California anymore. There is a lingering malaise over the World Series that Detroit reached and lost – but that this year’s Dodgers never made at all. There also is a gubernatorial race in Michigan that is very un-Arnold-like with a Democratic, female incumbent who has widened the lead over her Republican challenger, according to the latest polls.

Meanwhile, in addition to the anti-affirmative action measure, there is a Michigan ballot proposition that would establish a hunting season for mourning doves, which I don’t think I’ve ever been asked to vote upon in initiative-happy California. But for those looking for a nostalgic connection between here and there, I can tell you that Kirk Gibson, a Michigan native and former hero in Dodger Blue, can be heard on radio ads pushing the dove-hunting measure and warning against “radical extremists” who want to, uh, kill the proposal.

Of course, there was nothing that trigger-happy on my California ballot as I went through my electronic ballot at the Redondo Beach Public Library, one of the 17 county sites for early voting.

A poll worker who greeted me said more than 200 people a day were showing up, and I assume that many of those voters were like me, a touch-screen virgin. Some may have been more skeptical about the integrity of computer voting or may have been nostalgic for the paper ballots we used to punch, prick or write upon. All I know is that technology allows me to be 2,000 miles away on Tuesday without pangs of civic guilt.

At the Redondo library, I sat in a plastic chair waiting for my number to be called paying a close attention to the instructional video playing a continual loop on the portable television set. The video displayed a mock presidential ballot in English and Spanish with the choices I could make. The candidates were Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, John F. Kennedy, Dwight D. Eisenhower and Franklin D. Roosevelt. Fingers then punched in a write-in vote for John Adams. None of those candidates or their political relatives was on my real ballot.

Neither were examples for other offices such as the Commission for American Literature, the Poet Laureate and the Ambassadors of Musical Theater. If those political contests had been on my real ballot, I wouldn’t be throwing away all that campaign mail or ignoring those political debates.

If fact, if my real ballot had mirrored the instructional video, I may have lingered in my electronic voting booth. Instead, I was tucked away in my not-so-private booth leaving fingerprints on my touch screen or bypassing some races or punching the keyboard with the names of write-ins who never thought they were running for political office.

In the end, my choices covered the screen in a maze of colorful boxes and differing fonts that were displayed for me to review. On screen they looked like a potpourri of theater ads and billboard and when asked to print them out so a paper ballot could be preserved, the ballot spun out under plastic looking like a cash register receipt I could never actually touch.

In this electronic age and era of too much political regret, I was given two chances to reject my choices and start all over. But I didn’t. It wasn’t that I was so confident of my selections. I had a plane to catch and someone else’s election to cover.

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