Officials in Johnson County are in a dither because it took so long to count primary ballots on election day. Too long, they fret, for their investment in high-tech voting – new machines, touch screens, digital zippers, instant collection and calculation.
In the end, the machinery fizzled. Humans took over and spent hours counting ballots after the polls closed. A state waited for this most populous county to report. The numbers were (are) especially crucial for a gubernatorial primary in which Kris Kobach was leading Gov. Jeff Colyer by less than 100 votes of more than 311,000 cast. Nearly 9,000 pro-visional ballots, including 1,800 in Johnson County, remain to be counted statewide.
Speculation over the long delay in Johnson County was not without note that the man in charge, Election Commissioner Ronnie Metsker, was appointed by Kobach. High voter turnout wasn’t really the “problem.” It never is, in Johnson County or elsewhere.
Mostly the flop was about embarrassment; Johnson County considers itself above the rest of Kansas, the state’s economic engine, its suburban Valhalla, a paradise of rapid growth and sophistication, a gilded step above the state’s western wasteland.
And then this. The shame of late counting on election night.
The question is, what’s the big rush?
Technology has proved itself a mess from the first day it muscled into our elections. Paper ballots (and later their scanning) had gone smoothly for decades under the skilled supervision of previous secretaries of state. Polls opened and closed at 7, ballots were recorded; results were packed and sent to county clerks. By midnight nearly every vote had been tallied statewide.
Electronic voting has been sold as the way to improve efficiency in the mechanics of voting. Instead, it has improved the efficiency of villains who hope to interfere in the process.
Voting is a sacred privilege. It is not a pop quiz to be re-fashioned as a video game and pillaged by hackers. Nor are the results to be paced against the statistician’s incipient time clock, especially in populous Johnson County, already overburdened with perpetual rush hours.
Technology has not made voting quicker or more efficient. It has blasted into our democracy and made voters more skeptical and suspicious.
Let people mark their ballots carefully. Let votes be counted precisely, by hand if desired, and let the results be accurate and trustworthy.
The idea is to be unerring, exact. A little patience, please. Democracy is too important to put it on a time clock, digital or otherwise.