This morning the poll workers in San Mateo offered me a choice of voting on a traditional paper ballot, or using their one electronic voting machine: an E-Slate system from Hart Intercivic. After looking at the machine and being assured that I’d have a chance to review a printed record, I chose the E-Slate.
It turned out to be less intuitive than I’d hoped: Instead of a touchscreen, you have to select items using a scroll wheel and an “Enter” button. Thanks to the huge number of initiatives on the ballot this time around, I had to make my way through 14 separate screens, each of which had 3 or 4 contests or initiatives on it. It didn’t take long to get used to the interface, but then, I’m no stranger to the iPod’s scroll wheel–someone who was less of a technology nerd might find it more difficult. One strange aspect of the interface: You can highlight sections of explanatory/introductory text, not just voting choices. What happens if you “vote” for the text of a proposition instead of choosing Yes or No? Nothing, apparently–but it’s still confusing.
When I was done I reviewed my choices on-screen, then got a chance to compare what was on the screen against a paper record that the machine printed out (the paper was hidden behind glass so I couldn’t touch it or remove it). After verifying that everything was correct, I pushed the red “Cast Vote” button and the receipt scrolled off into the bowels of the machine.
Thanks to the interface it probably took me twice as long to vote as it would have with a paper ballot. On the other hand, I felt reasonably confident that my vote was actually being recorded, and that it could be recounted by hand if necessary. A review of E-Slate machines on Kuro5hin goes into more detail and concludes “guardedly optimistic.”
The good: paper trail, multiple-step verification process, easy to go back and revise your vote before it’s confirmed, helpful “Help” system.
The bad: not a touch screen system, scroll wheel might be difficult for some people, no receipt that the voter can take home, time-consuming to use.