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Barbara's Column
December 2000 #3

Chad, shad? we're all going mad
by Barbara Anderson


The Sun
Lowell, Mass.
Saturday, December 9, 2000

While I was very glad that 59 percent of this year's Massachusetts voters supported Question 4, I wondered why the percentage wasn't larger for such a wonderful income tax rollback.

In fact, I'm still wondering why only 59 percent of the 1980 voters supported Proposition 2. Is it possible that the commonwealth's voting machines get stuck every twenty years at 59 percent on a ballot item?

Let's admit this: when we heard an expert testifying during one of the Florida court hearings that some of the machines hadn't been cleaned in eight years, we were shocked, no matter which presidential candidate we wanted to win. The chads were allowed to pile up inside, the way they pile up in the punch thing with which I make holes to keep my columns in a binder. After about ten columns, they clog the punch thing and I have to turn it sideways and thump it on the desk and all the chads fall out and then it works again.

Good grief: eight years. That's as long as it's been since I vacuumed the coils on the back of the refrigerator, had the chimney swept, polished the wood floors, or deep-cleaned the wall-to-wall carpet. Well, actually I've never deep-cleaned the wall-to-wall carpet, since it was installed in 1976. And car maintenance? Let's not go there.

I didn't know I was supposed to clean the filter on the fish tank every few weeks. I found out when the fish got sick, and as a last resort I read the directions for running the filter system. You'll be happy to know that the fish recovered once I became a responsible pet owner. The lesson here is that the country will recover from the voting machines that no one cleaned, too.

What else is there to say?

At first thought, Massachusetts' Secretary of State Bill Galvin seems to have a good idea. He wants to loan money to those commonwealth communities whose machines are old and cranky and need to be replaced with high tech optical scanners. But when you think about it, concerns arise.

1. Are these scanners anything like the optical scanners in supermarkets? How sure are you that you are paying the right price for each can of peas and box of cereal? Yeah, me too.

2. It is essential that the cities and towns have to repay the loans; otherwise they'll be like kids who are given bicycles then leave them out in the rain. When they earn their own bikes with a paper route, they're more likely to take care of them, my chimney, carpet and car maintenance record notwithstanding.

Secretary Galvin's bill should contain directions for maintenance, storage, and instructions to poll workers, with penalties for those towns that neglect to wipe the scanners with Windex after every hundred shoppers, i.e. voters. Make it clear that if the machines fail in the middle of a presidential election, that city/town clerk will have to get a paper route to replace them, or his/her fish will be executed on local access cable.

I'm serious, or as serious as anyone can be who has been watching court cases and listening to talking heads for a week on the subject of the Florida chads. I have just two serious questions left:

If we could get through Y2K without a hitch, why couldn't someone clean the chads out of Florida voting machines before putting the country through the last month's extended election? And, have you noticed that Al Gore looks a lot like a sick fish?


Barbara Anderson is executive director of Citizens for Limited Taxation. Her syndicated columns appear weekly in the Salem Evening News and the Lowell Sun; bi-weekly in the Tinytown Gazette; and occasionally in other newspapers.


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